Starting the conversation on social media (part 1)

Categories: In The Media.

Kate Granger is a doctor and a terminally ill cancer patient. The excerpt above is from her blog, drkategranger, which she describes as “musing about life & death.”

She took to Twitter to announce her “cancerversary” as she reached the two year mark following diagnosis, tweeting: “Its my 2 year cancerversary today. It’s taken a while but we are learning to get along with each other just fine…”

As the internet and multimedia tools firmly take their place as an integral and necessary part of our everyday lives, people living with terminal illnesses or caring for those at the end of their lives are utilising them to communicate their experiences and express their feelings.

Kate Granger has 11,336 followers on Twitter, so there is clearly an interest in her situation. But are the interested parties fellow patients and health care professionals, or could it be that using this outlet to discuss death and dying is actually engaging members of the public simply interested in Kate’s story and therefore opening up a very public discussion on the topic?

Kate’s Twitter profile describes her as: “Always trying to look on the bright side of things,” and this is closely reflected in both her blog and her tweets. She appears to embrace the Twitter community and after a bad day tweeted: “Wow. Overwhelmed by the Twitter love. Sorry about the whinge last night. Feeling more +ve today. Away to the coast for weekend with hubby”

Just this week, the subject of end of life care was catapulted into the online media world with a tweet from US radio presenter, Scott Simon. The longtime host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, announced to his 1.2 million followers: “I just want to say that ICU nurses are remarkable people. Thank you for what you do for our loved ones.”

And over the next hours and days it emerged that the presenter was in fact sitting at his dying mother’s bedside, tweeting his thoughts and observations – sometimes humorous, other times heartbreaking: “Mother & I just finished a duet of We’ll Meet Again. Every word has meaning. Nurse looks in, asks, “Do you take requests?” He tweeted.

His personal words spread rapidly to the wider community following retweets by influential individuals and organisations such as Katie Couric, Esquire magazine and the Today show.  Subsequently, the story was picked up by more traditional outlets. The Washington Post ran a story on their website entitled: ‘NPR’s Scott Simon takes Twitter to a new frontier: His mother’s hospital bed.’

Members of the public who had never met Simon or his mother, Patricia Gilband, were reduced to tears with emotive, 140-character bedside tweets.

On July 27 he wrote: “Nights are the hardest. But that’s why I’m here. I wish I could lift my mother’s pain & fears from her bones into mine.” Yet, there were moments of laughter too: “Mother: “I don’t know why this is going on so long. I’m late for everything I guess.”

As his mother’s life came to an end on July 29, Simon tweeted: “The heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage.”

The introduction of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to take communication with them into situations that previously may have been taboo, private and inaccessible to others.

The ability to share the experience of either the end of one’s own life, or the witness of the death of another has the potential to profoundly shift in the way that the rest of society conceptualises death and dying.

We are suddenly exposed to stark, honest accounts of parts of life that up until recently have been shrouded in myth and misconception…

Catch the second part of this feature article on ehospice tomorrow. 

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