How to Share Your Story
by Jamie Holloway
I wasn't worried as I waited for the pathology report on the cyst that a surgeon had removed earlier that week. She assured me it would be benign, so the news that I had invasive breast cancer was a shock. Telling my husband was hard. Telling my mom was hard. Telling my kids, 5 and 8 years old, was really hard. By the time I'd told a few friends, I was exhausted just from the "telling." I was comforting them, drying their tears, telling them it would be OK. I quickly realized that there was no way I could have that conversation over and over again.
A dear friend suggested she set up a website for me where people could sign up to bring my family meals and watch my kids as needed, and we could do all the "telling" on the website. We chose Lotsa Helping Hands because it had a calendar where people could sign up for assigned tasks and a blog where I could post updates. I could also restrict access to approved friends and family.
Blogging began as a way to simplify communication by allowing me to update everyone at the same time with news of how I was doing and the latest from the doctor. I could even show off pictures of my new wig! After my first chemo session, I received so many texts, phone calls, and emails that I couldn't possibly respond to everyone. A quick picture on the blog of me with a smile and a thumbs-up from the infusion center let everyone know my treatment was going well. It saved me from returning all those calls and messages individually.
Once I finished treatment, the blog began to evolve. I wrote about the aftereffects of my treatments and about things that I hadn't expected. I wrote about the emotional issues that I was encountering and about the worries that still plagued me. Often as I wrote, I learned new things about myself and my feelings about what I'd been through. Blogging was like therapy for me.
I began to get messages that my family and friends passed along my website to their friends who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I was humbled that my story was helpful and hopeful to others. When I no longer needed the task calendar provided by Lotsa Helping Hands, I decided to transition my blog to reach a broader audience. I used the transition as a do-over to restart the blog, incorporating what I'd learned since I'd started telling my story. It has now been over two years since I completed treatment.
Today, the blog's content is decidedly different from the early days. What started as a way for me to quickly share with friends and family has become something much bigger. I am so honored to hear that my story has helped others, but the process of telling my story and making new friends as a result has helped me more than I could ever have imagined.
Stop by my blog, Run Lipstick Chemo, if you're curious to see how I share my story, and be sure to say hello so I can get to know you, too!
Pick a platform. Meal Train, CaringBridge, and Lotsa Helping Hands are great sites that combine patient and caregiver support with the potential for patient updates. They also allow you to restrict access to approved friends and family. WordPress and Blogger offer free, easy-to-use blogging platforms. GoDaddy is among a few sites that sell custom domain names and hosting to set up a more professional-looking blog. They also have great customer support. All of these sites are very user-friendly and don't require lots of computer know-how.
- Consider content. I moved from weekly treatment updates, through more emotional topics, and on to survivorship issues. New posts are inspired by the news, support group topics and discussion, or scientific articles. I also write about meetings I attend as a research advocate and the opportunities that I have to share my story in a larger forum. As a blogger, your audience should always be considered in what you write.
- Take some pictures. My best friend is a photographer who thinks that no blog post should be without an image. Try to include a picture or two with each post to better illustrate your words and to connect with your readers.
- Be honest. Initially I held back a few details of my diagnosis; I didn't name my doctors or share names of support group friends. But for the most part, I'm an open book. I have talked about hot flashes, haircuts, plastic surgeons, and even tattoos! You may decide not to write about every aspect of your life, but I find readers appreciate it when you choose to share something; you share with honesty and candor.
- Reach out. I invite readers to get in touch with me by email or on social media, where I also share my blog posts. I have met so many new friends—several of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in real life. A blog allows you to connect with people near and far who have had a similar experience.