I participate on several different cancer-related forums. I don’t go seeking support for myself, but I do try to add hope, comfort and/or information to others who go the sites, especially for those who are newly diagnosed with cancer. I well remember how mind-boggling it was to get the news that I had cancer. If I can make it even a little easier on others facing that news, then I want to do so.
I find that, even though I don’t know most of the people personally who participate on the boards, I care for many of them deeply. When one gets bad test results or is having a difficult time with treatments, it hurts me. If we learn that a regular contributor has passed away, I shed tears. And, on the flip side, when someone posts that they are now NED (no evidence of disease) or got into a coveted clinical trial or had scans showing stable tumors, my heart sings. It brightens my day.
Chances are good that I will never meet the vast majority of people who participate on the forums. We live all over the world. Many of us are as different as night and day. Our one commonality is that we (or a loved one) have cancer.
Someone wrote today that she was nothing more than “a line of type” to me. Indeed, we have little in common and she is definitely not one of my favorite forum participants. I find her a know-it-all and a very rude individual who says (types) hurtful comments to people nearly every single day. I think she’s trying to be funny most of the time. But, that’s not how it comes across to many of us.
I’ve often thought that she has very thick skin because people often disagree with her. Or, worse yet, they just ignore her. That’s what I usually try to do.
But, this blog entry is not about her … it is about the comment she made about just being “a line of type.” I disagree vehemently with that statement.
We may or may not know one another’s names, but we actually know a lot about those of us who participate regularly. We know which forum members share similar values and which ones don’t. We know who is in remission and who is in the fight of their lives. We know many inner thoughts that would likely not be shared if we were face to face. It feels safe to share what we really think and feel when we can’t see one another and we are known by a screen name only.
I might not know you physically, but I know you emotionally and psychologically. And, in my opinion, that is who you are. Not what you look like on the outside, but who you are on the inside, when you think nobody knows you.
I have a very, very good friend. We have been friends since 1999. We have gone through her getting a divorce, our kids getting married, having babies, and in some cases, getting divorced. We’ve gone through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I know things about her and her family that her very best friend doesn’t know. Because I am safe. We have never met. We have never spoken on the phone. And yet, if I really needed her, I feel that I could go to her and she would be there for me. I know I would be for her. In fact, we HAVE been there for one another. We’ve shared joys, tears, sorrows, and laughter. We’ve shared life with one another.
So, there is great fallacy when one thinks they are but “a line of type.” You’re kidding yourself if you think the people on the other end of your posts don’t know who you are. If that were true, online support groups and even Facebook and other social media would not work.
In my opinion, this is important to remember. Adults bully the same as children do. And, it is wrong, regardless of who does it. There is a live person reading comments made on forums or other social media. Some of them are in very vulnerable places, especially if they were recently diagnosed with cancer or how just learned that their cancer has returned or that it is no longer treatable.
Read and reread before posting something. Think about what you wrote. Will it help the person to whom it was written? Will they have to wonder what you meant by what you said?
None of us is just “a line of type.” Don’t treat one another as if that was the case.