Connecting with Those In Need: My Life as a Breast Cancer Writer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • A year ago, I’d never heard of the HealthCentral Network and, this site where you now find yourself. Twelve months ago, I barely knew that blog was short for “Web log,” and referred to a version of newspaper column online. But I’m a writer, a writer scraping for dollars, like all writers do. And I figured I’d better check out this blog thing, see what it was all about. If nothing else, maybe I’d make some contacts, connect with someone who might be able to point me towards some freelancing.

    A friend referred me to here. And I learned that blog postings could also be called SharePosts, and posted with a bare minimum of technological expertise. Never mind; I’d found a welcoming home for all this breast cancer stuff rattling around in my head: the insights into treatment, the perspective only time can afford, the emotions, always changing. And I started to post.
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    Now, 163 shareposts later, I realize I’ve attained my original goal: making a connection. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find that munificent benefactor, that wealthy entrepreneur who’s dying for a modestly talented but also conscientious and hard-working writer to vault his bottom line into the stratosphere. I’m still a struggling writer. But I’ve found a connection –- oh, many, many connections –- with you, the women and men who visit this site, who write SharePosts, leave comments, even send me e-mails. And a more interesting, vital, “real” group of people I could never hope to find.

    Connected by breast cancer, here on this site we reach out to one another, sharing stories and wisdom, asking for help, revealing our fears and sorrows in a place that’s absolutely safe: from judgement, from responsibility, from anxiety about disturbing family and friends. We’re in a virtual world here, a world where we can build emotional bonds, yet at the same time remain relatively anonymous. We may post photos of ourselves, sporting bald heads, surrounded by kids, innocently pre-cancer or wanly smiling, post-treatment. We may touch on our “real” lives, mentioning work, a birthday, insurance worries. But, the ethereal connection is that the Internet permits no more than that –- unless we pursue it. We get a brief glimpse into one another’s lives, no more. And that’s enough, when breast cancer is the common landscape we inhabit.

    Cancer is a kick-in-the-gut that’s caused our lives to veer onto a bumpy side road, gravel spattering under the tires as we skid and swerve into unknown territory. Never again will we believe we can control our lives; we know better. Cancer has robbed us of that certainty. In its place, though, we’ve found this haven, somewhere to come when the demons awaken us at 3 a.m., whispering “what ifs” into our ears. “Will I die? What if the radiation doesn’t work? Am I making the wrong decision about chemo?” It’s a comfort to visit and read about other women’s challenges. And it’s a gift to be able to bring comfort to someone going through what I’ve been through, someone who needs to know that yes, treatment does finally end. And life goes on. And on, and on, if we’re lucky.

  • Happy anniversary to me: five years past cancer, one year into writing for the HealthCentral Network. May both of us –- all of us –- stay healthy, stay happy, and stick around for a good long time!
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Published On: June 28, 2007