“I wanted to send you a message and say thank you.....”
This is how my morning today started. A comment on my Facebook post of over a year ago written about being a year on from the end of my cancer treatment.
I read the comment and couldn’t have halted the progress of the face-encompassing grin which marched up from my chin if I’d wanted to.
The comment went on
”....I’m a 46 year old mother, married to my best friend and a registered nurse. At the end of January last year, I realized my left breast felt like it was “in the way”
”I have always been consistent about self exams as I have a strong family history of breast cancer. I examined myself, it felt slightly denser”
“I turned sideways and caught sight of a dimple identical to yours. Once again I thought weight gain. I googled it and your photo was the first thing that popped up. I checked again and found a small lump. It terrified me. I watched my mother battle and win twice and watched my aunt lose her battle. I was only 8 months since my last mammogram. I called the next day and made appointments.“
”I was diagnosed with invasive lobular cancer stage 3 a. One lymph node involved. Thank god nothing else. My tumors were triple positive, very aggressive and spanned a 5.5 cm area.”
“I feel I would have waited and watched had it not been for your post. I had four more months until my routine mammogram was due and shudder to think how far it would have progressed. Thank you for your strength. I am now cancer free and hope that by sharing I can save someone’s life as you helped save mine.”
By the time I’d got to the end of the comment, tears were streaming down my face. Andy asked what it was I was looking at so I read it to him. He was crying by line 3.
Cancer will now always be a part of my life. And that’s really shit. But not as shit as if it had taken my life.
Had I not been a fundraiser, and had I not realised the true impact and importance of story-sharing, I don’t know if I’d have ever shared that original post and photo.
But I did. 6 days after receiving my diagnosis. The Facebook post has been shared more than 68,000 times and my story has been featured in hundreds of online and in-print media articles.
The irony of the most successful “storytelling” campaign of my career being absolutely nothing to do with any of the planned storytelling campaigns of career is not lost on the professional fundraiser in me! And the professional ‘me’ is a bit p’eed off with the personal ‘me’ in that this one post took about 5 minutes to write, about 2 minutes to get a photo that Facebook wouldn’t deem inappropriate, and about 3 minutes to muster the courage to press send - from start to finish around 3 weeks less than any other social media campaign I’ve ever planned and executed. And it was about 300% more successful!
I’ll be honest, I genuinely wasn’t expecting or prepared for the explosion of interest in the story. And I was completely taken aback by the scale of the media interest/intrusion.
Professionally, I would NEVER approach anyone within less than a few months of their trauma, let alone within less than a week. But that was MY choice and MY story.
Stories are the way we bring meaning and impact to facts. They are also the way we engage people with issues they previously deemed not relevant to them. And I’m now spending my professional life helping charities to engage with their beneficiaries to learn, to improve, and to capture and use their stories to help the achieve the charity’s mission.
I’ve had many messages and comments both online and in person since 1st July 2016. Most of which have been positive. Others I have chosen to ignore!
Having worked in the Hospice sector since 2006, I am all too aware of the importance of early detection and diagnosis. And I have personally seen the heart-break and devastation that cancer causes - of the four parents of children in my older daughter’s primary school class who were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness (3 x cancer and 1 x MND), I am the only one still alive!That in itself carries significant mental impact and significant responsibility.
So, Am pleased I shared my story? YES
Am I a cancer bore? YES
Am I attention-seeking? YES
Am I sorry? NO
Am I embarrassed that a photo of my left boob has been seen by millions of people and shared by thousands? YES
Do I wish I’d not needed to share it? YES
Was the embarrassment worth it? YES
Will I continue to pester anyone who will listen to check their boobs? YES
Will I continue to bang the drum about stories, story sharing and story telling for charities? YES
Do I wish that my left boob wasn’t more famous than the rest of me - I wish that none of me was famous! I don’t want the attention for myself. I DO want the attention for the symptoms of breast cancer (and other cancers) and I DO want the attention that it really could happen to you and you NEED to be aware of the signs and be checking for them regularly.
If you need to question any of the above, or if you don’t think this is relevant to you, re-read the last paragraph of the comment: “ I feel I would have waited and watched had it not been for your post. I had four more months until my routine mammogram was due and shudder to think how far it would have progressed”
This story is not about me. But it is about my story. And it has helped to save lives. Today’s comment is similar to 42 other direct messages I’ve received from other women (and two MEN!) who found their breast cancer because of my photo. I‘ve also had many more messages from people thanking me for encouraging them to get checked and that they did NOT have cancer but at least had been and checked. It is early detection and diagnosis that gives them the best chance of beating it! And my own medical team have told me every time I’ve arrived on their doorstep, they would rather detect anything early too!
Will I carry on sharing my story? YES
Will I carry on being a cancer bore? YES
Will I carry on being slightly embarrassed? YES
Do I care if you don’t agree? NO
There are thousands of stories shared online, in print and I person every single day. Many of them don’t seem relevant to us at the time. The photo I saw of that first breast cancer dimple didn’t seem relevant to me in early 2016. By June, it was the story I read most often.
Different people deal with life events very differently. I’m actually quite a private person. And am acutely aware that the sharing of your story is a very personal decision.
This was my decision. And today, as on 42 other occasions, I’m quite proud of and very pleased with the decision I made
So go check your boobs NOW!!
And (shameless work plug alert) if you want to know more about how to engage with your charity’s beneficiaries and harness the power of their stories to effect change, then come along to the session Luke Mallet and I are hosting at this year’s Institute of Fundraising Fundraising Convention on that very subject