This is the fourth article in a series of stories related to cancer survivorship. Look for the symbol on the left in an upcoming issue for the next article in the series.
Cancer Survivors Discover the Power of Blogging
Ann Silberman was diagnosed with cancer in August 2009. Two weeks later, she started writing Breast Cancer? But Doctor...I Hate Pink, a blog that puts a lighter spin on her struggle with breast cancer.
“I am able to take myself out of treatment and uncomfortable situations by thinking about how I’m going to write about it, or by looking for the humor in a situation for my readers,” Silberman said. “By being able to write about cancer for other people, I find that I am able to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, because that is what I want my readers to do.”
Nancy Morgan, director of the Arts and Humanities Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, affirmed the power of blogging for patients.
“The people I encounter at Lombardi who blog about their cancer are very much empowered by their ability to articulate thoughts and feelings about cancer and to link with others,” Morgan said. “One person’s courage to write inspires another to express their feelings. The relief that comes from self expression is palpable.”
In a study published in The Oncologist in 2008, Morgan and her colleagues found that patients reported feeling better after completing an expressive writing exercise.
“Post surveys and subsequent interviews identified a significant correlation between those who felt the writing changed the way they thought about cancer and improved physical quality of life,” Morgan said.
Amy Marash was referred to Morgan after telling her onocologist she wanted to draw cartoons to share information with other cancer patients. Morgan gave her a sketchbook, and Marash began drawing the cartoons with ballpoint pens, adding color with markers, and then uploading her work to her blog, Cancer Is So Funny, after perfecting the sketches in Photoshop.
“People love my cartoons,” Marash said. “They say my stuff is ‘wicked funny’ and that they laugh out loud. Some of these people lost someone they love to cancer. One of my biggest fans lost his father and his brother to the same disease. Others are fighting cancer and share my comic strip with their cancer buddies. So far, no one has said that my strip upset a cancer patient, and I hope it never does.”
Daria Maluta, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, writes the blog Living with Cancer. She had recurrences in 2004 and 2008 and is currently receiving chemotherapy.
“The blogging community offers a place for people with cancer to connect, share stories, and offer each other encouragement,” Maluta said. “Through blogging, I have learned an enormous amount, not only about cancer and its treatment, but also about how others deal with their illness. I believe it’s made me a stronger person.”
Carolyn Langlie-Lesnik, a registered nurse from Indiana, was diagnosed with appendix cancer in March 2001 and was once told her cancer was untreatable. Her blog, Appendix Cancer Survivor’s Blog, “is devoted to sharing what has been the more difficult part of the journey for me,” she said. “The emotional and spiritual road I’ve traveled as a rare cancer survivor.”
Langlie-Lesnik hopes her blog provides appendix cancer patients a place to vent and gives them information via useful links and other survivor stories.
“I truly needed to find purpose in my survival, to find a way to ‘pay forward’ all of the help I received,” Langlie-Lesnick said. “I hope my blog serves a purpose of helping others know they are not alone in their struggle; ours is a rare and lonely cancer. I’ve met several people I’ve come to admire via my blog, though many have lost their battle.”
Silberman has a large group of followers and is linked to her hometown newspaper’s Web site, The Sacramento Bee.
“I do see that a lot of people find my blog using a Google search term and then read it from start to finish, which is amazing,” Silberman said. “It tells me people really want to know what may happen to them.”
Both Silberman and Langlie-Lesnick were familiar with blogging before starting their cancer blogs. Langlie-Lesnick started an educational Web site, Appendix Cancer Connection, 5 or 6 years ago prior to publishing her blog. Silberman said she had previously blogged on other topics and was familiar with the tools. Maluta follows over 200 other cancer blogs. Marash blogged for The Digital Journalist before starting her own blog.
Each of the women has developed a community with her readers. “There are times the disease or treatment gets me down,” Maluta said. “I blog about how I’m feeling and/or what I am experiencing, and before you know it, someone is sending me an encouraging comment or e-mail. These few words of encouragement really lift my spirits. To be honest, I don’t know where I’d be without my blogging family.”