Holding Us Together: Stories and Compassion

Note From Peg:
The following guest post, by Marie Ennis O’Connor, breast cancer survivor, and author of the Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog, is part of an ongoing series here, which focuses on using social media for good.

Last spring, I first met Marie online through a comment she left on my Mother’s Day weekend post, Links for Social Good, May 2009: Breast Cancer Awareness. I wrote the post as a tribute to my own mother, whom I lost to breast cancer, some twenty-five years ago, this winter.

Marie’s example is both humbling and inspirational, and I’m very honored that she agreed to guest blog, in honor of Oct., National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I especially appreciate Marie’s thoughts on the power of story-telling and compassion, in building and cementing our online communities.

In her own words, Marie Ennis O’Connor offers support for all those who have survived breast cancer, and who are integrating this transformative experience, with the rest of their lives…

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, I relied on my circle of friends and family for emotional support. However, I often felt like I didn’t want to worry them with my fears and concerns, so the reality was, I kept most of it to myself. I found it easier to unburden myself at the cancer support center which I attended, but I still felt lonely and isolated at times, particularly as a younger woman with breast cancer in a predominately older environment.

Now, with the rise of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and online discussion groups, the support landscape has changed greatly since I was diagnosed. Women with breast cancer have access to much wider networks to find support and get answers to their questions. We can now share our experiences online with others who understand and can support us – not just in our own localities, but in different states and even countries across the world.

Having successfully completed my treatment for breast cancer and returned to my “real life,” I was not prepared for the tsunami of emotions that hit me at times. I was filled alternately with relief and elation at being given a second chance and with anxiety, fear, and uncertainty in the months and years, after treatment ended. Finishing treatment can be a very unsettling time. You can feel cut adrift and alone – once the hectic round of hospital visits, treatment and check ups are over, what then? Often this is when the real psychological and emotional work starts.

I started a blog, Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, about my personal journey to make sense of my cancer experience. I also wanted to connect with others struggling with the same questions and concerns as I had in this post treatment stage. Also, I hoped that in telling my story, others on the same path would find some resonance and the knowledge that they are not alone. I found that while there are many blogs, chat forums, and websites available for those newly diagnosed, or going through treatment, there is much less available on what it is like to have gone through the experience and how you integrate it with the rest of your life.

I have been surprised and delighted at how well the blog has been received and how many wonderful women I have connected with through writing it. I find a great sense of community and connectedness through the blog, so much so that I have recently expanded it into an online support community on Facebook.

It is comforting to know that there are others out there who truly understand what we are going through.  While family and friends can provide sympathy, it is really only those who are going through the same experience themselves who can truly understand us.  Then, there is the empathy and support we give each other – when I am feeling down, others lift me up.  And when those others are down, I am there to do the same for them.

One of my favorite quotes, which I have taken as a mission statement for our  community, is from writer, Barry Lopez:

Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.

Cancer strikes a severe blow at our sense of self and our sense of past, present and future. The apparent randomness of a cancer diagnosis shakes our sense of identity to its very core and nothing will ever feel certain again. I believe that as we tell our stories to each other, we rebuild our wounded selves, learning to integrate our past, present and futures selves. We tell our stories in order to heal; in listening to the stories of how others have walked their path, our own journey of discovery and healing is enriched.

I invite your readers to share their stories and thoughts at the Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer Blog and our group page on Facebook.  You don’t have to have experienced cancer to have something to contribute. While cancer was my personal catalyst for change, it can be any one of a myriad of life experiences, which may be your call to transformation. I write about universal themes of change and transformation and living an authentic life. We all have experienced pain, loss, joys and blessings in our lives in many different forms, and we can use those experiences to help others on their paths of recovery.

I leave you with one final quote from Nobel Prize Winner, Dr Albert Schweitzer, ( I have paraphrased it slightly by using the female pronoun) which beautifully sums up the philosophy behind my social networking:

Whoever among us has learned through personal experience what pain and anxiety really are must help to ensure that those out there who are in … need obtain the same help that once came to her.  She no longer belongs to herself alone; she has become the sister of all who suffer.

Welcome to the sisterhood!

(copyright Marie Ennis O’Connor)

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About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Please contact the author Marie Ennis O’Connor directly, for any rights to republishing this post. Peg Mulligan’s blog is protected by its own copyright, but Marie Ennis O’Connor owns full  rights to this post, authored by her, and currently hosted by Peg Mulligan at this blog.

2 thoughts on “Holding Us Together: Stories and Compassion

  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  2. Marie, Thank you for sharing and reaching out and helping so many..including me. Thanks for ‘holding us together’ my sister.

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