Blogging can be a great way to diarise your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It can also be a means to sparking a conversation, highlighting an issue or educating others. So it's perhaps unsurprising that some people who've been diagnosed with cancer are turning to blogging to chronicle their treatment, using their blog for revelation of and reflection on their feelings while also tackling the taboo around talking about the disease.
In this sense, blogging can be purposeful by helping to raise people's awareness of the psychological, emotional and physical effects of cancer. Bloggers can lay out their thoughts and feelings honestly and sincerely. Some days they might look positively towards the next phase of treatment or recovery; on others, paint a stark picture of the realities of chemotherapy. In short, they capture the nuances of living with cancer not readily learnt from a textbook. And, by overcoming barriers to communication, they may find it a cathartic way to confront and deal with their fears and emotions.
For example, the posts of 'Pinkie Jones' (real name Becky) - a 27 year old with breast cancer - range from emotionally charged to practical. One post, 'Warm words to keep you going on dark days', deals with the inevitable 'dark days' but inspires as she offers a virtual hand of support to fellow patients. She is effectively saying "Here are some things that helped me - they might help you too". Another post, 'What's the first round of chemotherapy like?', is informative, addressing a question that will inevitably play on the mind of someone or the loved ones of someone who's about to start chemotherapy. She provides useful tips, such as reminding patients to take a good book and snacks they enjoy. Talking about little everyday things in this way can bring a sense of normality - cancer may be a life-changing diagnosis but it needn't define their life.
Posting about their experiences of cancer treatment can also offer a sense of continuity through what can be an uncertain time. Regardless of how their cancer responds to treatment, blogging can provide a routine, purposeful task they can focus on. In this way, it can be thought of as a form of self-counselling. Even if nobody reads it, it can act as an outlet for reflection and assertion, in hope of inspiring or reassuring others they are not alone. They can chart progress, setbacks and see how far they've come as well as preserve memories of happy times. If they struggle to open up with others face to face, expressing themselves digitally can be an invaluable alternative.
Another example is Julian Quick, who blogs at 'fightback2fitness'. Julian feels that updating his blog 'selfishly helps' him and is cleansing by exposing his inner hopes, fears and vulnerabilities. Julian is a former rugby player who confesses that he never thought he'd be the 'type' to blog. But doing so, he finds, has helped him confront his illness and boost his wellbeing. Following his cancer diagnosis in 2014, Julian experienced anxiety and depression. With an estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK - a figure set to rise to four million by 2030 - and mental ill health affecting one in four of us, it's not uncommon for these doubly taboo topics to coincide, making posts from the likes of Julian a welcome voice highlighting the emotional turmoil of cancer while at the same time offering solidarity and guidance.
When it comes to other types of social media, while we're not afraid to ask a friend if they had a lovely holiday if we see their seaside photos on Facebook, we may think twice if we see them posting about having cancer or be less likely to ask how they are for fear of being intrusive or insensitive. However, by sharing a post on cancer, bloggers can - and do - reassure others that they are comfortable discussing their experience and, by doing so, helping to break down barriers by inviting others to join the conversation. Blogging about cancer is to be applauded - it's a powerful way of speaking fluently, frankly and often and should go a long way to normalising talking about cancer.
Macmillan Cancer Support, 2015. Statistics fact sheet: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/aboutus/research/keystats/statisticsfactsheet.pdf from Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Projections scenario 1). Macmillan analysis based on extrapolation of 2010 and 2020 projections that the
number of people living with cancer will hit an estimated 2.5 million in 2015.
MIND, 2013. Mental health facts and statistics: