Cancer Blogs Provide Insight from Patients
Bloggers offer information and inspiration to others affected by cancer
patients write blogs for many reasons—to inform, to inspire, or just to
vent their emotions. The reasons for blogging and the topics vary
widely, and each blogger has a unique story to tell.
Diaries and dialogues
One such blogger is Oliver Bogler, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for
Academic Affairs at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Bogler is a biologist with years of experience in cancer research
and a husband whose wife survived breast cancer several years ago. Last
September, he was shocked to learn that he, too, had breast cancer. To
chronicle his experience as a patient, he created Entering a World of
Pink: A Male Breast Cancer Blog.
“I started writing a couple of weeks after my diagnosis, so it’s
allowed me to keep a sort of diary and track the trajectory I’m on in
my treatment,” Dr. Bogler said. “When I was younger I kept a diary, so
I was aware that writing can be therapeutic.”
Some bloggers write to keep friends and family members updated about
the status of their cancer treatment. It’s not unusual to see blog
posts showing a patient’s lab results or treatment schedules. Services
such as www.caringbridge.org and www.carepages.com allow patients to
set up private blogs that can be viewed by invitation only. Patients or
caregivers who lack the time or energy to contact people individually
can use these blogs to stay in touch with loved ones.
Blogs can also be used to connect with cancer patients and survivors
who have similar experiences. Blog Nation, a network of bloggers, has
two directories of cancer blogs at www.blognation.com/directories. One
of these directories is devoted to breast cancer, and the other
includes blogs about other types of cancer. Another site, www.beingcancer.net, lists more than 1,500 cancer blogs. Such networks
allow patients to find other patients’ blogs and to communicate in the
blogs’ comment sections.
Many bloggers use Facebook and Twitter to find others with similar
interests. “I’ve connected with other bloggers through a Twitter
network called Breast Cancer Social Media, which meets online Mondays
at 8 p.m. Central time,” Dr. Bogler said. The group—which includes
bloggers, patient advocates, and physicians—communicates on Twitter by
writing messages with the hash tag #BCSM. Recently, members of the
group launched an independent Web site, www.bcsmcommunity.org.
Education and advocacy
“If you think you have a unique perspective to share, a blog is a good
way to join the discussion,” Dr. Bogler said. His experience as a
scientist and a patient enables him to describe cancer biology in terms
that patients can relate to. For example, this spring Dr. Bogler
learned that the cancer had spread to six of his lymph nodes. Dr.
Bogler explained the significance of this finding in a blog post dated
That spread is what you need to worry about for long-term survival. The
local disease is very effectively treated with surgery and radiation.
The cells that have left tumor-town and are hiding out along the rivers
and streams of the lymph and blood system and in the organ-countryside
beyond are the ones that can threaten your life, if they acquire the
ability to grow there. They are the reason we do systemic therapy:
chemo and hormone suppression.
Dr. Bogler also wanted his blog to raise awareness about breast cancer
in men. He said that the current lack of awareness among patients and
physicians causes some men to be diagnosed at later stages, when the
cancer is more difficult to treat or has spread to distant organs. To
advance his goals of education and awareness, Dr. Bogler has added a
video page to his blog.
Video blogs are not uncommon, and most traditional blogging platforms
allow bloggers to upload video clips. Some cancer patients skip writing
altogether and blog on YouTube. For example, a patient named Eric
McLean documented his 5-year struggle against leukemia on YouTube.
Traditional written blogs or YouTube channels can be started easily at
no cost. In addition to the blog network sites listed above, Google and
www.wordpress.com offer tools to set up blogs for any purpose.
Regardless of their format, blogs provide an outlet for their writers.
And for readers affected by cancer, patient blogs may provide valuable
insight and guidance.
— B. Tutt
information, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789. For blog posts by MD Anderson staff, faculty, patients, and caregivers, visit Cancerwise.
articles in OncoLog, June 2013 issue:
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