West Valley Medical Center - October 20, 2016

In an age where pretty much everyone has some sort of social media presence, it can be tempting to want to share all of life’s milestones with your online circle of friends.

But when you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, how much sharing is too much?

When it comes to weighing the pros and cons, the positive side is obvious: the internet is a great source of support for a lot of breast cancer patients.

But on the negative side there may be a fears of discrimination at work if your boss sees your posts, or simply having others judge you because of your diagnosis.

Here’s what you should know about finding support for your breast cancer journey on social media.

How important is social support for breast cancer patients?

Social media can be a positive force in your breast cancer treatment and recovery.

Having a strong social support system in place during your first year after a breast cancer diagnosis decreases the likelihood of death or cancer recurrence, says a January 2011 article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

People who use social networking sites are more likely to have closer social ties and feel less isolated than those who don’t. And when you’re undergoing treatment for breast cancer, feeling connected to others is an important part of recovery.

Eighty percent of internet users are active participants in specific online groups and organizations. Of those who are active in groups:

  • 18% are active participants in support groups for people with a specific illness or personal situation
  • 55% say they are part of a group that has provided emotional support

Source: Pew Internet Research Project

How can breast cancer patients stay safe on social media?

The National Cyber Security Alliance advises asking yourself these three questions for smart and safe social network use:

Are your privacy settings working for you?

Sites like Facebook allow you to customize who sees the content you post. If you want family and friends, but not co-workers, to receive your latest treatment updates, make sure you’ve set the privacy level for those posts correctly.

Remember that a lot of sites allow people to share their friends’ updates, so if you’d rather keep things securely within your circle of friends, be sure to let them know.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Sure, your Facebook post about your diagnosis three months ago may seem to have been buried in the vast social media abyss, but in fact anyone with the patience to scroll back through your timeline can find your old status updates.

So think about what you want to put out there before you click “post.” And if you regret posting something in the past, go back and delete it or change the privacy settings for who is able to view it.

Do you know who your friends are?

When it comes to social networking, some people think all friend requests should be accepted. Others are more cautious and only connect with people they know in the real world.

If you’re concerned about who knows the specifics of your breast cancer, consider only adding people to your friends list if you truly want them to know what you’re posting.

Don’t let this scare you away from using social media, though. For a lot of people, online support groups are a great way to connect with people going through similar circumstances.

How can breast cancer patients find support on social media?

Facebook — Both informal groups of breast cancer patients and survivors as well as official pages of organizations such as the American Cancer Society are great places to connect with people who are going through similar situations.

Twitter — Searching for and using popular hashtags such as #breastcancerawareness is another way to both raise awareness for breast cancer patients and connect with other like-minded people.

Pinterest — This virtual bulletin board is a great source of inspiration and ideas for raising breast cancer awareness and finding support resources.

What are your thoughts on using social media for support when you’re battling breast cancer?