Thanks to Social Media We Can Live the Lies We Wish Were True
Six months after I was diagnosed with Immature Teratoma of the Ovary a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. She chose to go public with her battle. I chose to keep mine private.
Our treatment plans were different. While I underwent Hysterectomy surgery immediately after diagnosis and did three follow up rounds of swallowing a medication each morning that initiated cell death, she had several rounds of Chemotherapy followed by a Mastectomy.
She posted every day on Facebook and Instagram. She was traveling here, going to parties there, toasting cocktails with these people, eating lobster dinner with those people and here I was at home hugging a toilet.
She posted photos of herself and her husband shaving their heads together. I posted photos of my cats.
She became a hero, a fighter, someone everyone admired while I struggled to find a comfortable position to lay in stitched up like Frankenstein.
One day I asked, Where do you find the energy to do all this stuff?
It’s what everyone expects me to do so I just do it, she said.
Months had passed. I was on the mend and after her first run with Chemotherapy failed she was given a different trial series and was finally ready for surgery.
I paced all day waiting for her husband to call me once she was out but he didn’t call. Later that night my phone rang. It was her.
It metastasized, she said. They couldn’t do the reconstruction. They did more tests. I was told today I have four to six months to live.
The line went silent. I didn’t Know what to say. Sometimes there’s nothing to say and sometimes it’s best to say nothing.
The next day she posted photos with balloons and a crowd of visitors along with video clips of laughter. All gaining hundreds of thumbs up and comments like, Oh my God you’re amazing!
There was no public announcement of the truth. My heart sunk.
She wasn’t giving up and I admired her fight but it was her real fight I admired. Not the online version of her superhero fight against cancer but instead her private and personal fight not to die that she shared with me.
We would spend hours talking about treatments and surgeries, our biggest fears, our most valuable joys, and how I finally made it all day without a nap and how she was able to eat breakfast after taking an anti-nausea pill. We bought the same travel book online and planned our imaginary vacation to Spain from pages we had both bookmarked. Anywhere but in our bodies, I said.
I can’t wait, she responded.
She packed her bags, kissed her husband and five year old son goodbye and headed to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She Stayed at the Hope Lodge for the six weeks while she was there for treatment. She posted regular status updates, photos and videos of her trip.
She reserved Instagram for photos of her days spent at the Hope Lodge taking art classes, doing yoga and daily selfies with her never ending revolving door of visitors.
Facebook was utilized for her daily log of escapades with friends and positive affirmations.
The thumbs up and comments carried on in parade fashion and her friends list was stacking up. There were people we hadn’t heard from since high school and friends of friends.
You’re Superwomen, they’d say.
God has blessed you, they’d say.
Sloan has given me a new lease on life, she once told me during our regular weekly phone call. The hospital back home had given me a death sentence.
I was curious and maybe even a bit jealous so I caved and posted a vague Facebook status. “First day back to work! I need some space in my relationship with Netflix.” I checked in again before I left and all my in real life friends had liked it. Only they knew the truth of the difficulties I was facing. My first day back was exhausting and painful. I didn’t check Facebook again until the next morning. By then it had over 60 thumbs up and almost twenty comments.
It felt wrong. I felt as if I were deceiving everyone. How could I feel excited or happy, or humorous about anything while I was physically feeling like shit? Not to mention I wanted, I needed to keep my struggles private.
I went back to posting photos of my cats to both Facebook and Instagram while I maintained my treatment. A few times I spiced my posts up with videos of dust storms and a photo of my daughter wearing a gorilla suit.
My friend had a break in treatments and headed back home for a few weeks to be with her husband and son. Soon after returning came the photos of pumpkin picking, children’s birthday parties and dinners and dancing. Thank you for a great night with these people and off to a concert with those people.
Someone had made a meme and photoshopped her face onto Wonder Woman’s body and there it sat on her Facebook wall with almost 400 likes.
Not too long after that I was in my home office writing. I got distracted the same as every writer does and before I knew it I was trapped in the time sucking abyss of scrolling through my Facebook feed. I came upon a post by her of a Food Network video. I knew something was wrong.
I immediately called her. Are you okay? I asked.
I’m just so exhausted. I have plans today. I wish I could stay in bed instead.
There were so many people who had never invested their time in her before but yet, she felt obligated.
Cancel your plans, I told her. Invest time in yourself. You’ve earned that and you don’t owe anyone anything. They’re being selfish. You never spent time with any of them before you were sick.
She took my advice and her pain medication and hunkered down underneath the quilt her neighbor’s, cousin’s girlfriend handmade for her. She spent the day in bed reading the copy of Brain on Fire I had mailed to her months earlier.
Three days later she posted a photo of herself in the hospital. She had an oxygen tube in her nose and IV poles on both sides of her bed. In the background stood four females. One was a mutual friend and three I didn’t recognize. She wore the biggest smile on her swollen face.
I instantly felt flush and frantic. Why was she in the hospital?
I dialed her phone number but it went straight to voicemail. I left a message. Call me, I insisted.
The next day there was a photo of her and her son sitting in a booth at a diner in New York City from her time at Hope Lodge. The words above the photo read, Last night heaven got a new angel. Our son’s mother, my best friend passed away from complications due to Breast Cancer.
I felt the skin of my face turn moist with tears and the rush of anger rise through my body. She was gone.
I sat there reading all the comments.
So sorry for your loss, they’d say.
If anyone could have beaten it I thought it would be her, they’d say.
The months following her husband would post updates under her profile on how he and their son were getting along. I found myself clinging to those few notifications with her name attached to them.
She had given him her login information and passwords in case something should ever happen to her. I had never even thought of doing that.
The more time that went by I realized she and I had both been living a lie. She had been using social media to act as if life would go on and things were okay. I had been using it as a tool for denial. If I kept it private, if I didn’t announce it to the entire world via the internet then maybe it wasn’t really happening.
The results to the tests for my six month follow up since my last round of medication came in the mail. I was scared. I sat on my bed holding the closed envelope in my hands thinking of her while waiting for my husband to get home from work so we could read it together.
Once he was home I struggled to open it. If it were bad news I didn’t want to know. If it were good news I did but the possibility of the bad overwhelmed me. My previous results had shown my CA-125 levels hadn’t changed. I handed it to him.
That night, in her honor I went onto my Facebook and posted a photo my husband took of me holding the piece of paper with the test results. Above the photo read, After 19 months I am finally holding test results with benign findings.
Reactions and comments immediately started popping up and the tiny little a friend is typing appeared nonstop. I closed my laptop, cuddled up inside my husbands arms and went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up to a long stream of comments.
I had no idea what you were going through, they’d say.
This is great news, they’s say.
Congrats, they’s said.
As I scrolled down and read each on I came upon her name and next to it the words, Take that cancer! You kicked it’s ass!
I broke down crying. I missed her.
At times I still find myself scrolling through her Facebook profile and Instagram photos just so I can see her again and relieve her memories, even if they weren’t necessarily the truth.