After living with a known genetic mutation (BRCA1) for 10 years, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009. As a 30 year old, single professional, cancer absolutely blind-sided me (even though I went for screening twice a year). Somehow I thought that if cancer arrived, it would wait until AFTER I got married and had kids.
Although leaving my job and fighting cancer on my own was incredibly difficult, no one prepared me for the challenge of picking up the pieces of my life and moving forward after cancer ended. My career no longer felt meaningful, and friends and family wanted me to go back to being who I'd been pre-cancer. Feeling disillusioned and depressed, I turned to blogging and started A Fresh Chapter. Then, searching for inspiration (and something inspiring to write about), I made the difficult decision to not return to my old career and instead set off for a 6-week volunteer program in Africa. Since then, everything in my life has changed.
After a six-month, 5 continent, volunteer trip around the world, I started the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation. We just wrapped up a 2-week pilot program in India that incorporated volunteer work, the opportunity to connect with cancer patients and survivors in India, and a bucket-list worthy trip to the Taj Mahal. For the 12 cancer survivors who participated from across North America, I know this experience was life changing. One participant said to me on the very first day she arrived in New Delhi - "This experience has provided a different view of survivorship and helped me break out of my bubble of fear. If I can go to India, I can do anything."
Each of those 12 participants started blogging, tweeting, and sharing their dreams of India as well as fundraising to cover their in-country costs through a crowd-funding platform called Volunteer Forever. My hope was that the foundation would cover everyone's flights and our trip to the Taj Mahal. In our pitch to cover flights, we staged a full scale social media "mob" on Richard Branson and Virgin Airlines using the #Delhi2013 hashtag. Within a week, we had 1500+ tweets, and almost 1000 shares of both our YouTube video message and the Fresh Chapter blog posts on Facebook. A representative from Virgin Unite contacted me and commended our efforts but couldn't provide the flights. Even still, this massive response from our relatively small community has propelled us to keep pushing forward and we were able to get miles donated for the participants who most needed the financial assistance.
While in India we used Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to share the story as well as shared video clips via YouTube. It's now time to take our story to the next level with plans to roll out a North American pilot program in the Bay Area this September. We want to create meaningful opportunities for cancer survivors to volunteer, experience new adventures, and form connections with other survivors here at home. We will continue to use technology to spread the word about our programs and to recruit our next group of survivors for both the North American program and our next two international trips, planned for India and Africa in 2014. In addition to offering programs for survivors, we are also working on a documentary and will continue to use social media to get the message out about the challenges of #survivorship and issues surrounding #globalcancer.
Through blogging, Twitter, and Facebook, I have connected with other survivors both in North American and beyond. These connections have helped me find community in a way I never thought possible. Given my former career as a professional recruiter/headhunter, I believe in the power of networking and I look forward to supporting other e-patients in their endeavours and finding synergies so that together we can continue to be a voice for ePatients both in North America and around the world.