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a woman standing with all of her care packages

Surviving Cancer with My “Online Friends”

Like many in my generation, I have “real” friends – people whom I’ve met in person — and “Facebook” friends – people with whom I’ve only spoken online. At the time of my bladder cancer diagnosis, I was a member of a private Facebook group with a dozen other like-minded Catholic moms. Most of us only knew each other online, but nonetheless, we shared intimate, personal information when we needed support and prayers. When I started noticing blood in my urine, they were the first ones I confided in.

They assured me it was probably nothing

All of them offered prayers and assured me it was probably nothing to be worried about. As women and mothers, we’re used to our bodies undergoing bizarre and rapid changes thanks to hormones, or pregnancy or breastfeeding. Blood in urine wasn’t normal, but there were seemingly hundreds of different explanations as to why I could be seeing it. They went through the reasons like a litany – UTI, kidney stone, a cyst. When I Googled my symptoms and mentioned offhandedly that it could be cancer, they reassured me. At my age, with my health history, cancer would be so unlikely.

They let me grieve and process the news

On the day of the cystoscopy, the group prayed during my appointment. After the urologist told me that the tumors growing on my bladder were almost certainly cancer, I logged onto Facebook while my husband drove us home in stunned silence. I told the group, and they were equally stunned. “What am I going to do?” I kept asking. “How am I going to tell my mom?” They let me grieve and process the news in a torrent of posts, and it was a blessing and a relief to tell someone – or several someones – who was removed from the situation, who could offer support and not be swallowed up in grief alongside me.

I had people who truly cared for me

Simply having a place to process the news was an incredible blessing. But over the next week, my “Facebook friends” managed to bless me even more. As I cried and researched and scheduled my TURBT surgery, unmarked packages from Amazon started trickling into my house – a cozy pair of socks, tea, face masks, and tiny toys and movies to keep the kids occupied while I cried. One day, I opened up a package and started cry-laughing: Inside was an enormous yellow plush in the shape of a bladder. Every single gift felt like a hug. Each time I filled up a mug with tea or put on my socks or cuddled up next to my stuffed bladder, I was reminded that I had people who truly cared for me.

Lessons I learned through cancer

Cancer was already starting to reveal some things to me, like how bad my anxiety and depression really was, and how unhealthy my lifestyle had become. But surprisingly, it also revealed that I was rich in friendship, and how crucial that support would be in making my way through such an isolating disease. Whether they’re friends you know in real life or friends you “only” know online, having survived cancer I can tell you that the very best ones are those that will stand beside you in your hour of need.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.