Most survivors will tell you that a cancer diagnosis can impose a sense of isolation. No matter the level of support from family, friends, and faith, the words “You have cancer” have the power to build a wall between you and the wider world. For many, social media can be a powerful tool in dissembling this barrier by breaking down the fear and the anxiety that can result from feeling alone on the journey.
Online communities of cancer survivors are thriving, and Women magazine is glad to be a part of the network of support and inspiration. Through awomanshealth.com and our Facebook and Twitter communities, we are grateful to have the opportunity to engage with our readers and participate in the conversation.
Now, as part of our ongoing series profiling members of our Facebook community, we’d like to introduce you to a young survivor who has offered to share her story in the hope that her experiences will offer inspiration and perspective to other women diagnosed with cancer. We’re grateful for her courage and inspired by her desire to make a difference.
Nicole Cassity, 26 – Marsing, Idaho
Like so many cancer survivors, Nicole Cassity learned some pretty powerful lessons in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and the treatment that followed. As she underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy to treat Stage II breast cancer (followed by reconstructive surgery), Nicole felt her priorities shift as she viewed the world through the lens of her survivorship.
“I learned just how precious and delicate life is and how important family is,” she says. “I learned how powerful and healing a strong faith in God can be and that it’s okay to ask for help. I learned how incredibly giving people can be. Ultimately, my diagnosis cut all of the crap out of my life and gave me an incredibly clear understanding of what truly matters and what never would or did. For the first time in my life, I learned what it meant to be humbled.”
A stay-at-home mom with a one-year-old daughter at the time of her diagnosis, Nicole was committed to doing all she could to fight the disease. “I was terrified, but I was determined to see my daughter grow up,” she says. She found strength in her husband and her faith throughout her journey; she also found inspiration in the stories of other women who had been down a similar path. “I reached out to another young survivor,” Nicole says, “and her advice and insight were very inspiring and uplifting. I left our initial meeting with hope and the belief that I too was going to be okay.”
Sharing her experiences with family and friends—and strangers—via social media and through a blog (ifightlikeagirl.wordpress.com) that she wrote during her journey was another critical coping tool. “I found blogging to be a great emotional outlet while going through treatment,” Nicole says. “Writing gave me the ability to express my experience and struggles while I was in the heat of recovery. It was incredibly healing to read comments of encouragement from family, friends, and even complete strangers.”
The healing benefit Nicole felt from sharing her journey online was deepened by the knowledge that she was also supporting other women facing a similarly challenging time. “My posts helped other women from all corners of the world who were going through a diagnosis and facing similar emotional and physical struggles. Touching other people’s lives and knowing I was helping them in even a very small way was powerful—especially when I considered the fact that they were strangers, and if it had not been for the web, our paths would have never crossed.”
Nicole is well aware of the unique power of the support that survivors can offer each other, and she shares this advice with women now facing a diagnosis: “You are going to come across people who have very strong opinions about what you should and shouldn’t do. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer, so take others’ opinions and advice lightly. At the end of the day, only you know the right decision for you. There are some tough times ahead; don’t hesitate to allow God to carry some of your burdens. Believe in yourself, never give up, and most importantly believe you deserve to get better.”
Now on the other side of treatment and cancer-free, Nicole is relishing the time she has with her family. She gave birth to a second child, a boy, in 2011 and is looking forward to watching both of her children grow.