Finding my People: The Power of Online Support
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26, I felt like I had won the world’s worst lottery. Like natural selection was running it’s course and I just happened to be on the losing side. Every doctor’s visit, statistic, and Google search was a constant reminder of how rare breast cancer was at my age. Whenever I had to sit in a waiting room surrounded by people that were 60+ years old, everyone looked at me like I had 10 heads. I even had one woman turn to me in the waiting room and say “You’re too young to have breast cancer” (Thank you, but my tumour would beg to differ).
Having breast cancer at a young age is extremely isolating. When I learned that my breast cancer was actually metastatic (Stage 4), I felt even more alone. My oncologist explained that I am what is considered “oligometastatic” (a relatively new term, and apparently quite rare). Oligometastatic means the cancer has spread to another part of the body, but it has only spread in a small amount. The upside to this additional rare aspect of my diagnosis is that I have a shot at a “cure”, or so I am told. That means I could live a very long life without this cancer ever coming back. Trying to digest this news was as difficult as you could imagine. I felt like I was simultaneously being handed a death sentence and a second chance at life. I felt lost, scared, angry, and alone.
For a while, I wanted to shut myself away from the rest of the world. Even seeing people on the street would fill me with rage because all I could think was “Why me?”. I was healthy, I went to the gym, I did yoga, I was vegetarian, I wasn’t a smoker. I got regular breast exams from my family doctor and used natural, aluminum-free deodorant. I thought all my bases were covered! But it turns out, cancer doesn’t always care what deodorant you’re wearing.
I chose to delete my Instagram account because seeing everyone live their normal, healthy lives made me feel like crap about my own life. During that time, a break away from social media was exactly what I needed to focus on my own healing. But eventually, I found myself wanting to connect more and more with other young women like me. No matter how supportive my friends and family were, they weren’t the ones in my shoes. I started desperately searching every corner of the internet to find other young women like me. Rethink was one of the first resources I found that showed me I wasn’t alone… in fact, I was far from it.
Although it may be statistically rare to have breast cancer at a young age, I found thousands and thousands of other young women online who were just like me. They were bald too, they had to put their lives on hold too, they had to live life with uncertainty too. I felt seen, like I had finally found my people. It gave me the courage to attend my first support group (an art therapy group offered at my hospital that I still attend to this day). I know it sounds silly, but when you’re going through cancer, you actually feel like you’re the only person in the world with cancer. It’s really powerful to be reminded that you aren’t alone. After some time, I decided to start my own blog and I also created a new Instagram account to share my story. Once I put myself out there, I was able to connect with so many other young women from all around the world (even some who were also oligometastatic!).
I can’t explain how incredible it has been to have the support of this online community. It’s like we were all forced to join a club that we never wanted to be a part of, and yet we find ways to manage and even thrive with each other’s support. Sometimes it’s a little note of encouragement (“One more chemo left, you got this!”), a burning question answered (“Does that happen to you too?”), or just needed acknowledgement (“I’ve been there”). I even had someone in California send me aloe vera in the mail to help heal my radiation burns! (We’re still not sure if border security is out to get us).
This community has motivated to be more active, inspired me to try new healthy recipes, and reminded me that rest and self-care are just as important as anything else. Most of all, it’s just nice to feel like someone out there gets it and is going through something similar. I hate that we’re all in this position in the first place, but I’m so grateful that we’re able to build a community online to support each other. If you’re a reluctant new member of the cancer club, just know that you’re not alone. Reach out. Find your people.
Are you a young woman with breast cancer looking to connect with others? Join the Rethink community here.