Livetweeting Cancer: Why Awareness Isn’t Enough Anymore

While ‘F--k Cancer’ and ‘Share if you hate cancer’ might be popular sentiments that create a lot of engagement around social sites, when faced with the reality of living and dealing with cancer, the internet still has trouble.

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Social media has certainly shed some light on cancer awareness in recent years, but it is still a thorny subject online. While some would rather not talk about it at all, others are interested in shouting about it from the rooftops. This week, Lisa Bonchek Adams, a blogger and prolific tweeter with stage-four breast cancer, found herself in the middle of this debate.

Adams’ website is a regular WordPress blog where she details her fight against cancer. The header reads: “Writings on metastatic breast cancer, grief & loss, life, and family.” But it’s not all doom and gloom, and one look at her Twitter feed shows how well people are responding to her work.

Two opinion pieces from Bill and Emma Keller, writers for the New York Times and Guardian opinion pages respectively, have ignited somewhat of a storm around Adams. Bill Keller’s opinion piece warns about “an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes” in the face of high costs in American medical care. Emma Keller’s piece has since been removed.

Often the focus on cancer related issues online has been about awareness; while awareness is important, what Adams is trying to offer is understanding. “Sharing some of the science of my cancer treatment in an understandable way helps current and future patients and their family members,” she tweeted in response to the furor around her.

While ‘F–k Cancer’ and ‘Share if you hate cancer’ might be popular sentiments that create a lot of social engagement, when faced with the reality of living and dealing with cancer, the Internet still has trouble. Everyone wants to help, but the topic up for discussion can leave many alienated. Awareness isn’t enough anymore.

Image credit: quinn.anya