Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching the articles about Lisa Bonchek Adams circle, ranging from the New York Times opinion piece by Bill Keller to the one written by Emma Keller (his wife) for The Guardian (which has been removed from The Guardian site but lives on in the archives), to the response piece written by Brian Loew at The Healthcare Blog and analysis by Susannah Fox on the Pew Research Center Fact Tank blog.
(That’s a lot of links in one paragraph. I’ll wait while you click. And please note that none of those links go to any dancing gerbil .gifs. But this does.)
Lots of discussion about a patient who is sharing raw and unfiltered details of her experiences with cancer through social media venues. For better or for worse, this is the new scrutiny of health on the net, and of real life chronicled on the Internet.
“Are those of us who’ve been drawn into her story going to remember a dying woman’s courage, or are we hooked on a narrative where the stakes are the highest? … Would we, the readers, be more dignified if we turned away? Or is this part of the human experience?” – Emma Keller
For me, chronicling my experiences with diabetes, it’s not for the “outsiders” who are looking in; it’s for the people who share that same condition, same disease, same struggle and who learn, thrive, and persevere through the power of common community and understanding. Readers may have the option to “turn away,” but for those who live with chronic illness, we have no choice but to look directly into it.
Is there a right way to deal with illness? A wrong way? How real do you want it?
So according to @nytkeller and wife there is A) a right way to blog B) a right way to tweet and C) a right way to have cancer.
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) January 13, 2014
I learned about living with type 1 diabetes, and the “forever” journey that it is, through other people who had it. Blogging wasn’t the first time I came into contact with other people living with type 1 diabetes. Community came through the Clara Barton Camp in North Oxford, MA, where every camper had type 1 diabetes and almost every staff member does, too. But there was a lonely, isolating gray area between aging out of camp and the coming-of-age of the Internet where diabetes was difficult for me. Being a teenager, and then becoming an adult, was a tough transition, and even though I had a good support system through my family, friends, and medical team, I was lost in a sea of people who didn’t understand how light diabetes could feel on some days and how heavy it was on others.
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing so much private, personal health information on the Internet. Hell, I totally understand that sentiment, as I was fumbling through Facebook yesterday trying to figure out how to delete people I hadn’t interacted with in years. It’s not a flippant decision, the one to advocate for your own health and to share your story. Scrape past the hesitation and the fear, however, and you’ll find people who are empowered by sharing, and lifted up by a community that has intrinsic knowledge of the places that hurt the most.
Over the last few years, I haven’t felt the “diabetes won’t stop me!” mentality I unwittingly held close for the first two and a half decades with this disease. Though my health is still good and I am grateful, I’m seeing the emotional and physical manifestation of years with type 1 diabetes in sometimes small, and other times enormous, ways. Patients with diabetes are writing about climbing mountains and running marathons and giving birth, but we’re also writing about complications like depression, eye disease, and eating disorders. Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s real.
Being honest about life with illness and disease can be the best, albeit non-prescribed, ‘medication’ yet. While it may also frighten and unnerve, honesty and community can validate, and empower, and inspire.
To quote Morgan Gleason, the fifteen year old who contracted meningitis while getting an infusion for an autoimmune condition: “I am the patient. I need to be heard.”