Tell Me You Don’t Think Social Connections Matter After Reading This

January 19th, 2012 was a horrible day. My sister was diagnosed with cancer (a few days later it was determined to be over a good portion of her body) after having beaten breast cancer about six years earlier. The doctor gave her weeks to live. By the time I was able to see my sister on the weekend, her eyes and skin were yellow from liver failure.

After the initial diagnoses, Barb was able to consult with another doctor. You know, the Michael Jordan type that likes to get the ball in his hands with 2.3 seconds left in the game and down by two points. Dr. Mehta ran the charts and prescribed an extremely aggressive and heavy dosage of chemo. Barb was warned (and had to sign and acknowledge) that this cocktail could kill her. But with death staring you in the face and nerves not quite of steel, what do you do?

Barb will have cancer the rest of her life. She will go for chemo every three weeks for the rest of her life. It is really a matter of how much more time can be stolen and the quality of life she will lead. Yes, it is extremely tough for her, but I am happy to say she is doing very well (her liver returned to full function and the various blood counts the medical staff looks for are very good). Barb has made most important milestones – our mother’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, her husband’s birthday and their anniversary, and most important to her at the time of the diagnoses and little hope of life past a month – her daughter’s graduation from high school. And now she leaves for college this week.

Let me tell you a little bit about my little sister who continues to teach me everyday about the important things in life. Barb is one of the most strong-willed people I have ever met. At times in our lives I would consider her inflexible, but this characteristic is certainly paying dividends now given Barb’s unwillingness to give into cancer. She is also a most humble and modest person … never wanting the spotlight and attention focused on her. And Barb is one that puts 26 hours into a 24 hour day – all aimed at her love for her family and their well-being.

When my sister was first diagnosed, she was introduced to Caring Bridge – a social network whose mission is “to amplify the love, hope and compassion in the world, making each health journey easier.” It is basically a social network segmented for health challenged individuals and their private group. Caring Bridge allows postings and updates, for patients and their friends and families. Prayers, words of encouragement, and helping hand offers and requests. Barb joined and I was frankly surprised at her participation. She is a most private person, but she shared much in her posts. It also surprised me the degree of interest she has in the postings on her board. Like I said, she never looks for attention focused on her.

But Barb most enjoys the stories and updates from people regarding what they are doing. The fact is that she is looking to stay connected to the people that matter given the hectic world she lives in … hectic even before the battle with cancer. There are four things that are going to keep my sister living – a reason to go on (her family); a brilliant and compassionate doctor; a strong mental outlook; and luck.

Now I am not saying that Barb’s connection with a social network is keeping her living, but it certain plays some small role. It definitely is a strong contributor to her tough mental state. And I don’t want to compare the importance of social media to fighting to live. By no means are the two anywhere near equal. But I do want to challenge anyone that says social networks are silly … “who really cares that someone went to the movies or restaurants.” “Social networks have taken away the way we used to talk to one another face-to-face, on the phone, and had a real conversation.”

The reality is that we have made our lives so jammed packed. Heck, I’ll look at myself … after spending 13-14 hours away from home between my commute and work, and wanting to come home and spend some time with my kids, I have little time for anything else. My life is completely filled. I can either elect to engage with some friends with a quick email, text, or social network post/conversations or forget about them totally. And while I am a social media enthusiast, I have to admit I have let more connections dwindle away than I would like to admit.

The question I am asking you (and myself) is do we really want to wait until death stares us in the eyes to make sure we stay connected with those that matter? Yes, human connection is the strongest when we are actually together. I am sure many felt the telephone was impersonal when it became part of every household. And now the same is being said about social networks. The reality is we have made our lives what it is while at the same time technological advancements have proceeded. We can elect to use technology for the good or the bad.

You make the decision. Stay connected? Do something meaningful?

I usually end my articles asking for your opinion and share your thoughts. While I am always interested for feedback and comments, I’ll make a different request here. Please share this article in honor of my sister, Barb; in honor of those that you know living with cancer; and in honor of those we lost to the dreaded disease.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve



Filed under cancer, community, social media, social network, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

20 responses to “Tell Me You Don’t Think Social Connections Matter After Reading This

  1. Tony Dowling

    Steve, I am humbled by your sisters strength and the love your family share. Moved by your ability to tell your story in such a compelling way. Privileged to be able to share this enormously human story.
    Thanks as always

  2. John Paterson


    From one who knows the importance of social connection during family crisis situations, your sister Barb stands out and is the quintissential example of what the words courage and grace are all about!

  3. Thanks for sharing this article Michelle your sister is a real hero.
    best sheena

  4. Mark Longbottom

    Social interaction is nothing without the people behind it, the technology is part of history the people are the inspiration and we can get that becasue we are connected – having and being a friend who shares is something we should all aspire to in life or business.

  5. Steve, I am always amazed with your articles. As a cancer survivor myself, I agree that our connections (including spiritual) help not just our emotional well-being, but our physical healing. Thank you for continued postings that inspire and teach.

    • Thanks Olga. It is very rewarding to hear from individuals that my articles have touch them. Much appreciated!!! Congratulations on your beating cancer … the journey is never easy. Be well! Steve

  6. Steve, I’m not as good at this as my wife…but she has used CaringBridge extensively with several people. I think at least four of them had cancer, and the photos, updates, and active arrangements for meals and rides are outstanding. It takes people like my wife…and people like your sister who are OK with setting up profiles out there…to make that network work and even change lives.

    Great story.

    • Thanks Brian – always appreciate your input. Maybe us guys need to be more like our wives and sisters ????

      • If I was more like my wife…the world would be a better place, buddy. She comes by that gift of generosity, selflessness and loving heart naturally. Me, I tend to be more obligation-driven, but I’ve gotten better with age and a good role model! 😉

  7. Steve,
    Thank you for sharing your sister’s story and your family’s experience with CaringBridge. We like to say that the power of CaringBridge begins with people being there for each other. The technology is just the channel to express the caring that already exists in the world. We’re glad we can make things at least a bit easier for your sister during this time.
    Wishing your family strength and support,
    Michelle, CaringBridge

    • Thanks Michelle – CaringBridge is an extremely important technology for many that live with cancer and other health complications! You should be proud of your entire team!

  8. Amanda Griffith

    Steve, I have the honor of working with Ellen Goodman on The Conversation Project, a public engagement campaign that at its heart has a mission very similar to the points you make above.

    The Conversation Project, co-founded by Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Goodman, launched just last week with a goal that is both simple and transformative: to have every person’s end-of-life wishes expressed and respected. Too many Americans die in a manner not of their choosing. The Conversation Project wants to change that through a public campaign to encourage open and honest discussions among families and friends. By helping people talk with their loved ones about how they want to live life at the end, The Conversation Project hopes all of society can, one day, answer “yes” when asked, “Have you had the conversation?”

    The Conversation Project does not promote any specific preference for end-of-life care; instead, it seeks to encourage and support people in expressing their end-of-life wishes for care. Launched in collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), The Conversation Project’s cornerstone is a website that offers visitors a Conversation Starter Kit, and asks people to submit their personal stories to be shared at, and via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. By sparking cultural change at the kitchen table — not in the intensive care unit — The Conversation Project hopes it will become easier for people to communicate end-of-life wishes that can be expressed in advance and respected at the end.

    Anyway, I thought learning about this movement for social change might help. Take good care, Amanda (a distant relative, by marriage, to the Shipons)

    • Amanda – Thanks for the info. Seems like a very important issue being taken on. My sister is not preparing for end-of-life at this time – she is living (emphasis on living) with cancer now and we hope for a good time forward. But I do not mean to diminish the importance and value of The Conversation Project. Thanks for sharing and best, Steve

      • Amanda Griffith

        Thanks, Steve. I didn’t mean to imply she was preparing for EOL so sorry about that. If anything, the initiative is all about living, living life to the fullest and really expressing what that means because tragedies happen, suddenly, but 100 percent of us will die someday so it is about sharing and talking in the now. Healthy wishes coming your way!!!

      • No problem Amanda – appreciate your words and input. I will check out The Conversation Project. Thanks!

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