This evening, I discovered the way that twitter enables community. I’ve had a twitter account for a while, but I’ve only ever used it much at academic conferences, where I am always a bit nervous to post for fear of saying the wrong thing and having it archived publicly and permanently. But tonight, tonight was totally different. A world of different.
Yesterday I opened a new twitter account. A “cancer twitter” account. Follow me @ChelseyRHauge— I’ll be tweeting from cancerland. I searched for conversations about young women with breast cancer. I found a bunch of folks. I started tweeting. They tweeted back. It was cool. I found out that tonight, there would be a twitter chat, at 6pm my time. I decided to “attend.” I downloaded tweetdeck on the advice of a new twitter cancerbuddy, made a cup of chai tea, and stacked my notes to stop editing and give my full attention for that hour to twitter. And. It. Was. Awesome.
There was a question provided to get things rumbling, and everyone just started going crazy. All kinds of conversations. Thoughts on getting out of ruts. Ideas for inspiration. People who totally get it, and get it such that they can provide ideas for inspiration for those particularly bad chemo days, or very sad moments, or times when you just can’t get out of the jammies. These women were rockin’ the hashtag and throwing out ideas and support. And they were so warm. I could immediately participate. I was riveted, I got involved in conversations, we tossed ideas back and fourth and I laughed out loud at comments and jokes. I had something to say, and my eyes were quickly scanning so as not to miss anything in this fast-moving conversation. There were raw moments, exciting moments, boisterous moments, moments of silence, moments of curiosity. I just experienced something I’ve written about but never felt so materially, a connection with people I’ve never met facilitated via social media. This was different than all the social media experiences I’ve had. Suddenly, I have SO MANY new twitter friends, and they all have/had breast cancer, and many of them are young. That happened.
As a scholar of social media, I am fascinated by this twitter community. There are archives and archives of these conversations. They are fleeting and brief, and so full of emotion. At the end of this media event they realized a young woman, a fellow participant in this community— 36, people, 36— had just died of metastatic breast cancer. Collectively, they mourned. It goes on. They continue grieving, missing her, tweeting anger at the cancer that took her, intense sadness about her death, the loss of a friend, and the communal pain literally radiated off the screen and through the network for this woman, communal pain understood through the lens of we all have breast cancer, and our comrade just died of this very cancer. I am struck by the amount of feeling that can be held in and passed through this space, through 140-character commentaries. I felt it, jumping out at me and grabbing at my heart, this community I am part of by virtue of the fact that my cells morphed, grieving together for one of their -our?- own, in this particular digital structure. So much more feeling seeping out between each #bcsm (breast cancer social media) tag, so clear in the brief posts, the responses and the tweets. In this twitter community, as a young adult with breast cancer, I am relieved, I am surrounded, I am recognized.
P.S. And as for my hands and feet, the swelling is down- thanks for your concern! I can almost normally bend my fingers. I popped the blisters. My thumbs bend some, and my palms are not as red. We’re on the upswing… until chemo again, this Friday.