Can Twitter make cancer better? Xeni Jardin, the founding editor and co-editor of Boing Boing, decided that it probably could, and live-tweeted her first mammogram and breast cancer diagnosis yesterday. She tweeted everything from her decision to undergo her first screening to photos of herself prepping for the test on instagram, and even the results: Sadly, that she has breast cancer.
Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart pointed out that Xeni’s tweets are a sign of the times, even if it’s not necessarily a signal that social media is doing us great favors. [To see a play-by-play of Xeni's tweets, click here.]
In many ways, the fact that she Tweeted her very personal experience is a sign of How We Live Now. Many consider it tragic how much we rely on technology — everywhere you go, heads are down as people walk, talk and dine transfixed by smart phones, texting and checking in and liking and tweeting. But Jardin’s decision to update her followers as she went for her breast exam highlights a positive aspect of public sharing: The ability to reach out of a community, and have that community embrace you, in turn. The gadget becomes a life line. Replies from people you have never met offer a much-needed human touch in a moment of need. On the other hand, there’s a false intimacy: We’re going through it with her… except not really. She’s the only one in the robe.
I’ve never gotten a mammogram, or received news near as devastating as learning that I have cancer, but I imagine it’s pretty isolating, with or without Twitter. Somehow, I doubt that the loneliness of cancer escapes Xeni or any breast cancer patient. But on the whole, isn’t using Twitter to feel connected in a time of crisis a good thing?
Even if you’re not as “sharey” as Xeni, I think you have to admit: It’s pretty inspiring that breast cancer and mammograms are something women can now tweet about openly without shame or fear. It’s a cliche, but knowledge really is power when it comes to health, and the success of the breast cancer awareness movement is testament. Just a few years ago, women like Xeni wouldn’t have openly discussed breast cancer screening with friends, and therefore would likely have caught their cancer far later in the game, lowering their chances of receiving successful treatment.
Twitter is one reason that we’re all more aware, but the cultural shift towards being open about health issues like breast cancer is what I find the most uplifting “sign of the times”: If we can erase the stigma surrounding top killers like cancer and HIV/AIDS, we can make much bigger progress in preventing and treating them.
A play-by-play of Xeni’s tweets, which she eventually started tagging with #myfirstmammo, are on the next page…