A younger friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s 27. She’s a learning and development professional, so her avenue for getting the word out initially was via social media. Like so many of us these days, Rachel’s network is broad and international, so using social media is the easiest and quickest way to share important information like this. She has taken it a step further by creating a really great website where friends can check in to read blog posts, get information about her diagnosis and treatment and send her messages.
In what I would call typical fashion for Rachel, she laid out the information in a very practical and straightforward way. She explained it all incredibly well, even the up-in-the-air stuff, and did it in a warm and conversational style that is very much ‘her.’ I didn’t feel the need to do any research when I was finished reading the diagnosis and treatment pages, which is a testament to her ability to convey information to an audience because I ALWAYS have to research stuff like this after I read someone’s ‘explanations.’
Not only did she explain what’s going on with her, she offered people a concrete opportunity to donate to research for treatment of stage 4 cancer, which is under-researched (unlike the cancer she has, which has had the most attention over the years), and for those who just really want to do something for her she listed a few ways we could be helpful and supportive of both her and her boyfriend, Erick. Practical. Warm. Thoughtful of others’ feelings about HER cancer diagnosis. She acknowledges that sometimes people just need to do something—anything—for a friend in her situation.
I have only known Rachel for two years. Exactly two years today, actually. I had been following her on Twitter for about four months, and noticed that she was in Chicago for work at the same time I was there for a conference. Another new Twitter friend lives in the Chicago area, so I looped her into the conversation about our geographical proximity and we decided we should all meet up after my conference was over on Friday, August 7. We were going to eat at Rick Bayless’s walk-in restaurant, Xoco, but when we got there and saw how crowded it was we took our chances and went around the corner to Frontera. We got a table in something like 10 minutes, and had a fantastic lunch together. We shared food and laughter, and had a great time.
Rachel lives in the Washington, DC, area, and the next summer I was going there to help run a meeting so I got in touch. ‘Dinner?’ ‘Sure! I was already going to meet up with another Twitter friend from the area—join us?’ ‘Yes!’ Another great meal in the books with like-minded people in similar professions. This time Rachel and I got to know one another a little more, and I made another in-person friend of a Twitter connection.
I don’t claim to know Rachel well—we’ve met in person twice and have had some great conversations online—but I won’t deny that her diagnosis really hit me hard. These days, the line between knowing someone because you see them often and knowing them because you interact online has become very fuzzy. I have now met people in person who I’ve known online for a while and felt completely at ease with them. After all, I’d known them for a year (or however long), really, even though we hadn’t shared the same physical coordinates before. So when she first posted her diagnosis on Twitter and I saw it something like 2 minutes after she posted it, I don’t know why I was surprised that it affected me so strongly. She’s not my best friend. I’m old enough to be her mother and I don’t live near enough for us to be really close. But we’re still friends, and knowing that a friend has breast cancer, albeit a treatable and potentially curable once, is scary and upsetting.
My visceral response as a casual friend makes me appreciate her cancer website even more when I think what a comfort it must be to those closer to her. And as someone who is highly critical of websites in general, I can appreciate what a great job Rachel made of hers. As a friend, I’m grateful that her response to her diagnosis was to accept it, learn about it and potential treatments, and then turn around and create a website that is both informative without being ridiculously technical and visually nice to look at. As someone in L&D, seeing this site has shown me, more than anything else of hers I’ve read, how she thinks.
My take away from Rachel’s cancer site from an L&D perspective (in the dreaded bullet point list – this one’s for you, Rachel!):
Take it in.
Reflect on it.
Give the facts in a clear and concise manner.
Explain the hard stuff without getting too technical (she wants her audience to have an understanding but not bog them down with unnecessary details).
Share some feelings (but not too many because it’s too personal, too close to home, and not everyone want to go there with her).
Reassure people, both about the diagnosis and treatment, and about where her head is right now.
Give those who need to do something, anything, some suggestions for both impersonal cancer research donation and personal connection and support for Rachel and Erick.
Give her audience a chance to share, reflect, comment, and participate in an online community of sorts.
My take away from a friend’s perspective is this: Rachel is a kind, warm, and caring person who, even in the midst of coming to grips with a frightening cancer diagnosis, thinks of others and finds a way to teach them what she knows so they understand what’s going on.
To meet Rachel and follow her journey, visit her cancer website: http://cancer.ohthatrachel.com/