Cancer Goes Social: What I'm learning from a stranger's public battle

social networking
Blame Drew's Cancer, but dealing with cancer in a public forum has become a very cathartic and healthy way to fight the disease.

My exposure to the cancer fight in social media started last Spring, when a popular developer, Drew Olanoff, got cancer and his decision to go public generated lots of dollars in the fight against this horrible menace. (Read my post about

It's not the first time a public figure has spoken out about their fight against cancer: One of Drew's most avid supporters is Lance Armstrong. You might remember him, something about 7 wins at the Tour de France and a bout with testicular cancer.

But social media makes a public battle against cancer so different. A voice on a blog, a picture on Flickr or a 140-character update on Twitter. For some reason, it feels much more personal. Sharing something in real time and somehow connecting more deeply with followers/readers.

Case in point: We Can Rebuild Her, by Andrea Ross and Mark Blevis. As public figures in the social media world ("fixtures" as someone called them), they decided to be public about her struggle: sharing thoughts about chemo, blog entries from their children. It's all very... out there.

And for that, I'm grateful.

I blame cancer for stealing one of my favourite people. For trying to steal so many I know and love. And I appreciate social media for helping me learn the true nature of cancer, and bringing me closer to someone who's been gone for so long. Someone who shielded me from her battle.

And so each and every day, when I log on, I go to Google Reader and I read the latest posts to find out how they are rebuilding her. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I'm amazed by their resilience. But each day, I feel like I learn a little bit more about my aunt and what she went through in silence. And I'm thankful they chose to speak out.