The Meaning of Life and the Why of Blogging

 

There is something going on in the blogosphere. There is a shifting in the breeze and a sense of unsettledness. The groundswell of a movement is still there but amidst it s a sense of questioning. Questioning, why we blog, for what purpose and with what aim? We seem to be drowning in questions, and struggling to find many answers.  A bit like the meaning of life, perhaps.

In many senses the blogsphere is awash with breast cancer related blogs. (My own blogroll miserably fails to capture too many brilliant blogs). Of course the scale of breast cancer blogging reflects the enormity and diversity of the disease on top of our own individuality. The fact that there is such variety in the approaches we each take to blogging, reflects the uniqueness of our own diagnosis and experience and what breast cancer means to us individually.

I can see that I am not alone in feeling the need to spring clean the blog, peeking into the dusty corners of the archives and emerge with a shiny new, squeaky clean refreshed Feisty Blue Gecko space. I worked on the visual side a few weeks ago, and am quite pleased with the revamped look, although it might experience some tweakings and refinement.

That is the easy part though. The visual side is far less complex and much clearer than the “what’s in it” aspect. So following some heavy weeks at work, residual tiredness and gradual recovery from the recent ill health, it has taken some time in this post taking shape. Added to that is the continued feed of posts from fellow blogesses who are also thinking about the Why of Blogging.

It is interesting to see how our blogs develop and evolve as time marches forward. I remember the thinking processes I went through as this blog entered the blogosphere in October 2009, not long after diagnosis. Being so far away from family, many friends and support networks, I wanted to keep folks informed and updated as I was propelled along the diagnosis-treatment path. I also wanted to record the tiny details that I knew I would forget as time wore on. This would be a record of my experience that I could revisit. And connected with that was the interest to revisit when I would be in a different place emotionally and physically. I find it very powerful re-reading some of the posts from my earlier days following diagnosis. It is difficult to recall just how you felt long after the event. The level of detail I have written preserves that.


However, by far the biggest catalyst for my blogging about breast cancer was to try and get a grip on what was going on in my mind. I would lie awake at night, thinking, worrying and fearing. Starting to record everything and process it was incredibly cathartic, and still is. Having the blog to focus those thoughts and shape them into a post which would have to be coherent enough for others to read provided an outlet for the the scary thoughts, a kind of download button. Yes, blogging really helped to bring some meaning to life in the new cancer world that we are thrown into.

If my original Why of Blogging was multipurpose, then no wonder I am having difficulty making sense of the current Why of Blogging nearly three years on. And this is where I find myself far from alone.

Take Lauren’s blog,  After Five Years, for example. I would look forward to Sunday evenings and luxuriate in Lauren’s insightful and eloquent writing as I prepared for the new week ahead. On a Sunday even in Asia, I could time fairly accurately when the Tweet would arrive, which would tell me that Lauren had clicked publish on her latest post.  The end of last year brought a break in her weekly blogging, which I found quite unsettling and disconcerting. As the weeks turned into months, I would continue to click regularly on the link in the hope that there would be a new post. And then one day, there was. And her post was a discussion linked to the Why of Blogging and how this was shifting for Lauren.

Last month, within days of each other, Uneasy Pink and Bringing up Goliath published posts sharing very similar thoughts. Uneasy Pink expressed a tiredness. Tiredness of cancer, of the lack of real progress, and so tired of good people dying. And tiredness of trying to find some new to say when the nothing is really changing. Bringing Up Goliath shares a similar fatigue as she says she will be stepping back a bit to re-think.  She expresses a deep sense sadness, especially in seeing the progression of metastatic disease in women diagnosed at the same time as she was early in 2009.  Not long before I was diagnosed myself.

I feel as if I am in a kind of “cohort” amongst women who were diagnosed around the same time. A kind of “Class of 2009”. However, we are all in different places depending on our various diagnoses, stages, treatment paths and situations. I keenly feel injustice, guilt and uncomfortable relief simultaneously that so many are living with Stage 4 metastatic disease while I count my blessings daily that I am still in NED’s company. That very fact, that so many women are dying of metastatic breast cancer, despite advances and despite often early diagnosis and regular screening, is one of the drivers for many to advocate and shout for change through their blogs. There is a wealth of articulate, clearly argued and passionate debate in the breast cancer blogosphere which is a major Why of Blogging.

The Accidental Amazon is one such tireless advocate. She is the Queen of Snark and one very smart cookie. And she has told us that she is also feeling the fatigue and taking time to step back for a bit. She says:

“So, here’s the thing. I’m taking a break. No idea how long a break it will be. But I’m going to just live my life for a while — you know, that life I used to have before cancer. That life that has, in very large part, been on hold for four years”.

And that leads us to another kind of development in the blogosphere. Just a month ago, I was inspired to read news of another “blogging change of direction” from Second Base Dispatch.  She clearly articulates the complexity of finding her way, and the relationship between her new path and the breast cancer which probably put her back on the path and describes how she is now making her way forward:

“I’m going to have to devote time to poetry, likely at the expense of my breast cancer social media activity and blogging (unless I can figure out how to give up sleeping).

It might feel like you’re giving up if you don’t continue to fight for the friends you’ve lost, and we’ve all lost too many. But I also feel very strongly that if we don’t live the life that matters to us, we’re doing them an even bigger disservice. We owe it to them to make every minute count.

I don’t plan to walk away from breast cancer advocacy completely. The community I’ve found online means too much to me. I may not be blogging as often and instead of focusing on breast cancer, I may want to share what I’ve learned in case anyone wants to try their hand at writing as therapy.”

Being Sarah, for example, has been a launchpad for things broader than breast cancer, such as the wonderful sounding “Friday Walks which she and her partner have developed into a protected and precious Friday routine, and reports from Pot 44 which is a vital part of her life. This is amidst the grief she is reeling from, since losing Rachel earlier this year and most certainly does not mean she does not continue to shout when the need arises.  This is abundantly clear in her latest post. At the start of the year, she launched her new Shine like a Bee blog to share things creative, as well as gardening and updates from plot 44. Being Sarah, meanwhile, is focused on her breast cancer advocacy and experience, and matters related to her authorship. The Friday walks have now moved to A Sense of Place. She is also in a stage of thinking and organising how she keeps the content of the blogs discrete and focused. Questions, more questions.</

Time is a major factor too.  Blogging is a time-consuming lark.  It involves a great deal of thinking, writing and refining words carefully, selecting (and uploading which can take ages here) the right images, and then the tidying of links and tags and then often a great many deep breaths before the “publish” button can be hit.  This process can be sabotaged by breaks in connection and although I usually write most of my posts offline, there are times when I find myself on a roll, craft the best words and exactly the right tone only to have it all disappear in the ether when connection cuts.  I really should learn, and promise myself to every time it happens.  Until the next time……  Furthermore, I find myself pretty busy trying to fill my days with non cancery stuff and carpe the diem, so time can be pretty tight at weekends and evenings.  I have the latest Book Club book to read, writing exercises for the Writing Group, and Masterchef Australia to keep up with.  Not to mention the day job….  So the balance of trying to keep the blog alive and fresh, while living for the day is also tricky.

And that brings me neatly back round to my own personal Why of Blogging and how that fits with this recent overhaul of things gecko. I started blogging in April 2007, with the original Feisty Blue Gecko intended to note and document aspects of life and work in Asia. There were so many details, which would make me smile or surprise me and partly I did not want to forget them, but also I wanted to share these gems. When I was diagnosed in 2009, I created the current blog as I felt the clear need to create a different space dedicated to the breast cancer experience. However, I did not want to maintain the previous space. Nor do I want to return to it now.

I had no idea when I started blogging that I would become part of a community of bloggers and others online and become so emotionally involved and feel so supported and connected.  That is a very important Why of my Blogging.

All that brings me to the present day. As life moves forward, I know I will not return to the life I had back in Feisty Blue Gecko Days because my life is different now that it is lived through the breast cancer lens. It just is. So in terms of blogging, I might have posts which reflect or rant about on breast cancery stuff. I will also be updating and recording how things are going with health stuff generally, as well as the cancery stuff specifically. I am in fairly good health now, but I realise how fragile this is as I recover from the recent embolic escapade, and when I look at the cocktail of daily drugs I have to take. And there will undoubtedly be times when I feel I have nothing new or original to say.

However, I am in a fortunate position. I live in a fascinating environment at a very interesting time. I live in a culture in which I learn and observe new things constantly. There is a great deal to share as I experience and see new things.

Thus, the plan is to continue to blog in a similar vein, but perhaps to share more of the “life and work of a Scottish Woman in Asia” part of the new strapline. Who knows what will happen in my breast cancer future. It is impossible to predict. No matter what does happen to me, you can be assured that I will be blogging about it. When I see something that lights my touchpaper, you will be seeing a rant on here. When I go through checks and scans, or experience other steps in the path forwards, yes, that will be here too. I will aim to share the snippets and images of life and work here and the moments which make me stop and pinch myself in wonder that I am following the path that I am.

So in fact there may probably not be a great deal of change here. But then again, there just might be …..

 

28 thoughts on “The Meaning of Life and the Why of Blogging

  1. Philippa,
    This is such a wonderful post and thank you so much for including Dispatch From Second Base. It helps so much to read about what others are doing, and to know that a lot of us are undergoing change. I very much look forward to learning more about your life and work in Asia.

    • Thank you so much, Jackie – your post was refreshing and inspiring while recognising and validating that cancer leaves us in a horrible mire.

      I am also very envious of your new path ;)

  2. Thanks for including me Philippa. I love your blog too and will pretty much read anything you write. Unless, of course, you start writing mean stuff about me. :)

    Katie

    • Thanks to YOU for providing inspiration and material for reflection in a very interesting post and articulating what so many are feeling.

      And if I am really, really struggling to find something to write about then now you have given me the idea to write mean stuff about you ;) As if there would be anything mean I could say!

  3. I always love your take on blogging Philippa and having been on a short hiatus myself from JBBC I too feel the winds of change blowing through our community. I am looking forward to seeing the new directions this wind takes us all. Marie xxx

    • Thank you for your constant support, Marie. And how we miss JBBC – you provide the fabric of the BC interweb. I wish you well and look forward to sailing along with you in the winds of change xx

  4. This is my first time visiting your blog, Philippa. What a thoughtful post! I often wonder about the value of blogging. What’s clear, besides your writing, is that it allows people with common interests to connect. Best, Elaine

    • Thank you, Elaine – it is lovely to see you here :) And so nearly in Bangkok!

      Yes, blogging has brought far more into my life than I ever could have imagined, and so many warm and solid friendships. (Something which consistently comes up in my blog ramblings) I just have to ignore the fact that it was cancer that facilitated it all!

  5. Oh thank you Philippa, I wonder too, sometimes, if the fatigue comes in wondering if you are heard…and this, well this tells me so much about being heard. I am having musterings again, and we shall see but I love your work, love it so. <3 Lauren

    • Thank you Lauren – I will keep clicking on After five years in the hope that the musterings do muster. I do miss your writing, and am very envious about how beautifully craft your thoughts and ideas. We also have our Amazing Race adventure to start practising for…..
      P
      xx

  6. Philippa,
    I, too, am seriously thinking about stepping back, so it was a relief in many ways to read other blogs and learn they’re feeling like I am.

    We were all diagnosed about the same time and started blogging about the same time. Perhaps moving on is a natural evolution in our healing. Writing and reaching out to one another has been a cathartic, group therapy, and I hope we’ve helped others as well. Unfortunately, it seems as though there will never be a shortage of new breast cancer bloggers who will take up where the previous bloggers left off. In the meantime, I will continue to follow the blogs of all of my friends, eager to see where life takes each one of us.

    XOXOXO,
    Brenda

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Brenda. You are right, the fact that we have been writing in such a predominantly constructive environment really has been a cathartic group therapy. We need to speak up but we also need to be heard by those who truly understand. I don’t feel so much that I am moving in a new direction, but perhaps rather filling out the detail in where I am generally. Although so many of us were diagnosed in a fairly close time frame, we are all in such different places. I am thankful to have this space where there are so many helpful and uniting factors.
      Take care, P
      xox

  7. I am so happy to read this. I find this to be a sign of mental health, and a natural progression from cancer patient back to healthy person. Changed person, yes, but with a renewed spirit of health. I, too, began my blog in 2009. Ended my initial treatment a year later, and was on to my “every three month” oncology appointments. I knew that to look forward, to get back to health, I had to put aside my blog, stop frequenting the forums, stop researching and living in the world of cancer. It was a deliberate act for me, a turning my back upon cancer. But, not easy to do. Can I start blogging about my job and keep my friends, I wondered? Can I write day-to-day absurdities and still communicate with those I’d grown to love? It was a heartbreaking thought, how to put aside something that had become so meaningful to me, so helpful, that had helped me though one of the worst things in my life? By the same token, it was the thing that would hold back my full recovery. It had to be done. The blog needed to be put aside or changed, or morphed or something…for me to fully heal. Do I rip off the band-aid? Do I pull it slowly? Do I become one of those cancer news regurgitators? Do I just shill products and hold contests…one toe in cancer world, keeping eyes on the page but not really doing anything significant to me? I was still deciding…

    Then I got mets. Problem solved. I would never again be allowed to turn my back on cancer, never be allowed to concentrate on anything else. Cancer will always and forever be sitting at my dinner table, an unwanted guest greedily gobbling all the attention. Eventually, I will be dead and my husband and sons will be sitting without me. I treasure those months when I thought I was healed. When I felt that I could turn my back on cancer. When I was starting feel that it could end, that my life would again be normal. I say, Hurray! every time a woman of my “era” posts this post – that she is saying good-bye, or is deciding to change the blog, shut up shop, take a break or change topics entirely. That is what is supposed to happen, and it is what I want to happen for every single woman who had cancer. Health.

    I’ll still read your words and I hope that that you find a new focus. I will enjoy your healthy adventures living in a foreign land. You have a life and hopes for the future and dreams. Life it fully, for those of us who won’t.

    • Ann, thank you for such a thoughtful and thought provoking comment. There is so much I want to say, but for right now I just want to reply quickly.

      Oh I remember so well when you shared the confirmation of your mets on your blog. I remember clearly how you described this in terms of an apology that your blog would end the same ways as it does for all women with metastatic breast cancer. As you say, blogging choices such as the ones I have been discussing suddenly become academic.

      I agree wholeheartedly in the importance of treasuring this time when I feel, and am, apparently well. Hence the carpe diem references which crop up regularly. Some think I am being negative or fatalistic when I say that I am cramming in experiences now, while I can, because (especially as a stage 3 gal) I just cannot be sure how long I will have that precious health and be in NED’s company, I do not want (in the event that cancer waltzes back in full time to my life) to look back and wish I had not squandered precious time when in good health, not appreciating what I have and not taking time to really smell the roses. So yes, I am enjoying those adventures, and having blogging choices, making plans and having dreams. I don’t know how long I can, but I will until I have to stop!

      Gosh, that was meant to be a short reply! I am thinking that I will probably follow up this post with a kind of “sequel”, prompted considerably by your very insightful comments. Perhaps we can chat offline about this?

      In the meantime, thank you for such a thought provoking comment and for sharing your experiences so openly and honestly. Very very warm wishes from Yangon.

  8. Philippa, I recently have felt the same way about why I blog. I think we all want to find meaning, both for ourselves and for our readers. I love your revamped look, and I look forward to your upcoming posts, wherever they may take us. Much of our therapy is wrapped up in the writing process. So rant on! xx

    • Thank you, Jan – that is so true. We need to find a purpose and meaning that is right for ourselves and equally for those who read what we write. I am glad you like the look – that was fun, and definitely the easy part!
      Yes, I guess we should buckle down and see where it all takes us…………. I wish you luck in your thinking and reflecting too.x

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  10. Hi Philippa, I really liked this and it really got me thinking about why I blog. Early days of the Being Sarah blog I was just the photographer and carer, feeling no need to share my thoughts about what Sarah was going through. But then, when I was encouraged by Sarah and Rachel to do just that, I was overwhelmed by the reactions and kindness of so many, including you.

    And I realised then that that kindness had been out there all along, waiting for me. And it might have made my caring road less stressful if I’d tapped into it earlier. And now, of course we blog in several places, not all obviously about breast cancer. Except it’s always there. Neither of us could, or would ever want to walk away and pretend it never happened and isn’t still happening to us. So on ‘a sense of place’ you’ll find posts about our work or our Friday Walks that clearly position us as ‘this is what it’s like living a life with breast cancer in it.’

    At first I resisted moving to several blogs, thinking everything could be expressed within ‘Being Sarah’. But Sarah prevailed (it is her blog after all!) – citing the argument of why readers arrive at blogs? From our own memories, we realised we came to breast cancer blogs for help and sisterhood when it was deeply needed. Therefore, we decided, the walks, the work, the films, the art, even the allotment, needed hosting elsewhere. And we enjoy it that way. As others have said, I think it has been good for our mental health.

    And I also think people are finding us, and possibly finding their way through to the breast cancer sisterhood, all of you, who might not other wise have done so. I hope so anyway.

    Good wishes with your own questionings and explorations. They’re the essence of a meaningful life!

    • Thank you so much Ronnie – now, you have gone and got ME thinking too! I hadn’t really been thinking enough about the Why of Reading Blogs and it was really interesting to hear your experience and take on that.

      There has been such a lot in these comments, that I will almost certainly be following this up over the coming days after a bit more pondering.

      I will be heading over to A Sense of Place more often too, it sounds like the kind of space I would really like to hang out :)

      Thanks for your support and insights. And the prompt for further thoughts…….

  11. Philippa,

    Something is indeed underfoot. I’m just not sure yet what it is. But I have been feeling it too.

    I’m a junior stateswoman in the blogging world, having started in April 2011 after my diagnosis in late 2010. Due to my post-mastectomy skin healing issues, my reconstruction was indefinitely postponed. That put me in a sort of suspended animation. But the down side became the up side: My “process” was slowed to a screeching halt. And that allowed me the time to flesh out my thoughts and feelings about everything that had happened. But I was forever feeling pressure to catch up to my real life before the next chapter began. And that bothered me greatly. Finally, I caught my blog up to my current self this summer. And I did a redesign too. And that’s when my motor stalled.

    Which in hindsight now makes sense. I had nothing to write about. But in two weeks I will be dipping my toes back into the murky waters of surgery — I’m finally having my exchange surgery and getting rid of these expanders and trading them in silicone, the holy grail of implants.

    Thank you (and everyone who has commented here, as I read your blogs too!) for adding your wit and wisdom to the why of blogging. It has helped me realize why I stopped. The camaraderie I find in our community online will be why I restart. ;-)

    • Thanks so much for your comment, and there is no such thing as a junior stateswoman in this world. Once you hear the “you have cancer” words, that’s it, you are on the board!

      Your words resonate very clearly, especially about the fleshing out of thoughts and feelings. It is an incredibly helpful process, and it makes sense that when there is less to process there is less to write about. The writing itself is a great part of what helps.

      I will be thinking of you as you move through your surgery, and hope everything goes smoothly and that your recovery is speedy. And I really look forward to hearing your next blogging thoughts. :)

  12. I’m the “odd man out” in this club having been diagnosed in 2006 and officially post active treatment 5 years ago. It was at the 5 yr mark of my diagnosis that I began blogging. And then, volunteering. And defining my path. I threw much at the wall to see what would stick. It pretty much all did and now I find myself having to fine tune what I wish to do.

    Yes, I too feel the groundswell of change. Change is good. The important thing is that we have made connections and I know in my heart the connections will last forever.

    Much love,

    AnneMarie

    • Thank you for your comment AnneMarie – and you are certainly not an odd one out, the club (sadly) is that we have all been touched by cancer, it doesn’t matter when, though i think it can add a further dimension connection in some ways. Your voice and commitment is humbling – keep on shouting AM!

      Yes, change is good. And necessary. Change is life. It can be unsettling but it is healthy (mostly). As change continues, those connections become firmer, we are very lucky in so many ways.
      Love and thanks P xox

  13. Wow so we all meet here. The class of ’09!

    My goal with my blog was a little different. I was a journalist who got diagnosed in the weeks I took off between jobs. Suddenly I was banished from news island and sent to cancer land.

    I originally started with the idea of an online magazine. And people were generous writing for me for free. While I had those personal posts, my goal was to create a digital platform for breast cancer news. Something that might even produce advertising revenue to pay writers, and even an editor!
    I even hoped to create a spiffy social network that could be private and modern.

    Then I went back to work, when you spend your day doing news, doing breast cancer news online isn’t so much fun. I no longer check my google numbers to see who is reading.

    I still have moments in my journey I want to share. I saw a pink breast cancer pimp cup the other day! Seriously. Lymphedema sucks so much, and sometimes I feel like that should be my direction.

    Something I didn’t anticipate was the whole pink vs. anti-pink thing.

    The truth is I like and respect women on both sides. At times I have felt torn, neither fully part of the rabble rousers or the pink people.

    The funny thing is that I think I can tweet without blogging. Just tweet worthwhile stuff and people will follow.

    I am glad some of the good articles people wrote are still out there getting hits. I imagine a newly diagnosed woman making her way through several years of articles.

    • That was some class in 09, wasn’t it?!I had just arrived in a new country, started a new job so in some senses I was lucky. Cancerland in a new land is a strange place too though :) Creating “Jin our loop” was such a constructive and creative way of combining your professional background with the unexpected breast cancer diploma.

      I have also been taken aback by the divisions in the community, though it is such a large and diverse group of people with such different experiences, and difference ways of dealing with it. Then the complexities of the marketing and accountability of the Big Pink organisations. I am in a strange place, kind of straddling both, and feeling affinity for both. I also think we need both, if that is not too contradictory! The pink scenario is so different here, awareness is a critical issue so all very different.
      Thanks for your comment :)

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  15. What a post, Philippa! You’ve captured a slice here of the changes we go through…the shifts in needs, the whys of our blogs. I’m quite glad to hear you won’t be stepping back from blogging, but instead sharing different aspects. (I’m really, really glad) The adventures of “life and work of a Scottish Woman in Asia” sounds wonderful to me ;)

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