Kindness and Cancer – It Matters
Kindness and cancer—it matters. Those who have been affected by breast cancer could echo this sentiment. While one would expect kindness to permeate the breast cancer community, the unfortunate reality is that is not always true. Though many social media posts may include surface level symbols of courage and tenacity (pink ribbons, bicep-flexing emojis), a quiet darkness has been known to reveal itself more and more, and it is a troublesome occurrence that is not widely discussed. In my story that follows, I will share with you just how I came to learn this for myself.
Diagnosed in early 2016 at age 29 with an aggressive stage 2 breast cancer, my world was forever changed. Finding people like me was nearly impossible in my own southwest Missouri brick and mortar community. However, social media was a powerful tool that I had at my fingertips! I quickly learned that by sharing my story publicly, I could not only provide myself with the therapeutic practice of composing my thoughts and experiences into words and then releasing them, but also, I could connect with other men and women who found themselves in similar stages of their own respective journeys with breast cancer. Connection after connection was made, and I was no longer feeling like an anomaly! Unity. Togetherness. A sense of belonging. I was finding my space.
My experience with sharing my story on social media has overall been one that has yielded mostly positive responses. Difficult conversations may take place, but this is to be expected when much of the subject matter is related to cancer. However, nothing can adequately prepare you for the first time you receive messages driven by ill intent.
I had awoken in the night, unable to sleep. I picked up my phone and had begun to scroll through Instagram when I saw that I had a series of post/reel comments and direct messages from a username with which I was previously unfamiliar. I quickly noted the tone to these messages and found myself in a state of shock and inability to understand from where they were coming, who this person was, and why this person would be lashing out at me. She was spewing this unkindness by the paragraph. It was said that my reels and posts were “annoying” and that it was pathetic that I had “a cancer account,” that I needed to just get on and get over it. She went as far as to mock me, too.
I was stunned and it took reading these comments and messages multiple times to even process that these were words communicated by another human being, a fellow cancer survivor at that. Never prior to this had anyone expressed anything like this to me. Her words insinuated that my sharing my story about my cancer experience was a waste of time, that no one wanted to hear what I had to say, that I had made cancer into my identity and that was not of any interest to anyone.
This triggered an emotional response within me. My heart dropped and I was hurt even though I did not know this person. My anxiety mounted. Returning to sleep became an impossibility. This woman had also experienced the trauma that is cancer. How was it within her to treat me this way when she knew firsthand the heartbreak of this disease? I immediately blocked her as to further protect my mind from this emotional poison.
I have since had time to better process this and have come to several realizations. Cancer thrivers and survivors are human, too, and the cancer experience can leave behind a darkness that some struggle to exit or leave behind. When unkind words are spoken toward someone, it is rarely actually about that person and more often a reflection of an internal struggle within the speaker. I now understand that the words she used toward me were not about me and that I was the unfortunate recipient of her turmoil and knowing this has helped my heart to heal. This story is a testimony to how challenging the cancer experience is and the importance in availability of mental health services for those in need, and it also underscores the necessity for destigmatizing utilization of such services.
Social media has the potential to be a beautiful space for us to connect and interact, for us to create and build lifelong friendships with those traveling similar paths with cancer, a space for us to have grace for the ups and downs that this journey encompasses for all. But it is through impeccability with our word, reaching out in kindness, and in encouraging one another—this is how we can heal together. This is how we can build a community that we can propel forward. – Mindy Miller
If you or someone you know is a young woman with breast cancer looking for a community that relates and connects with your struggle, the Rethink Young Women’s Network might be right for you. For more information, click here.