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Twitter Therapy: Cancer Patients Tweeting Through Chemo

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[Live from SxSW]

Photo by Andrew Mager

Perhaps the most meaningful event at SXSW was a loosely organized discussion between Drew Olanoff and Brian Simpson. Drew and Brian are both east coast internet mavens, neither of whom used the SxSW soap box to speak about their jobs.

Instead, they discussed how they used the micro-blogging site Twitter to get through chemotherapy treatments and cancer. Drew, who often claims that Twitter saved his life said, "I would not have been able to do it without the support system on Twitter."

Brian added, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you can share that light with other people it gets bigger and bigger."

Drew was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in May 2009. Soon after, he created the now famous internet meme #BlameDrewsCancer, where people blame Drew's cancer for anything from losing their keys to losing their job. Over 14,000 people have used this hash-tag, raising money for the Livestrong Foundation.

Tweeting through chemotherapy seems to be catching on as cancer patients turn to the large, and semi-anonymous support network of online friends. So why Twitter and not Facebook?

Drew and Brian were adamant of the fact that the short nature of Twitter updates makes the service ideal for growing a virtual network. "You can say anything you need in 140 characters," Drew said. He went on to explain that Facebook was more complex and failed to encourage loose ties of support.

Brian recounted how the light but fruitful conversations gave him hope and support when he needed it most. A simple "have a great day" or "you can do it" helped him get through weekly chemo treatments. When asked why he preferred Twitter to Facebook, he responded, "It's quick, it's easy. I needed that constant follow-up with a huge circle."

The openness and activism from these two cancer survivors has inspired others to use internet tools for both therapy and fundraising. Kara DeFrias, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer four weeks ago, knew about #BlameDrewsCancer before her diagnosis.

"I originally started my blog because when I was diagnosed I felt alone," she said. "I decided to write so if someone was going through what I went through they could find my story and not feel alone. Drew and Brian inspire me to keep writing."

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