10/18/2013 06:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

At the Top of My Lungs: Facebook Force Field (Social Media, Social Me)


Elliot Schrage, Jennifer Glass and Michael Buckley at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA; Photo credit: Matt Harnack

"No man is an island." -- John Donne

Remember playing Telephone when you were a kid? One child would whisper something to the next and so on, until the last kid would say the message out loud and it would be hilariously different from the original.

In the first days of my cancer diagnosis I felt I was in a marathon game of Telephone, minus the hilarious part.

Each day brought volumes of information to be conveyed to an ever-widening group of family and friends. I shared updates by phone, talking with one concerned party at a time.

I have a weird lump on my neck. I have metastatic lung cancer. I'll start chemo and radiation soon. I don't know when. I don't know why this happened. I love you, too.

These conversations were exhausting for me and frustrating for those on the other end of the line. Depending on the information available that day, each person came away with a different perspective on, "How is Jennifer?"

I needed to find a better way to manage the information and set the tone. Social media was the perfect way to share updates and to build the community on which I knew I would rely.

There are several good websites designed to help people with illness keep loved ones informed about treatment and progress. I know many people have found to be extremely helpful. For me, Caring Bridge was a wonderful resource, and initially that's where I posted updates.

As time progresses, though, more and more people learn that I have cancer. Each time someone becomes aware of my illness, that's one more person offering help, good wishes, or specific and useful advice. Most of these people are already on Facebook, and that's where I live my cyber social life.

Every "like," every "friend," every message of support buoys me as I learn to live with this terrible disease. Each voice is amplified, helping not only me, but all of the people who care about me. Those who love me are part of a global support network of people invested in my story, rooting for me every day.

I've always been a highly social person. Now that my health prevents me from getting out as much as I'd like, my online social community is profoundly important. Through Facebook I remain informed and engaged, I participate and feel relevant. I know about things like Sharknado. My online interactions help me avoid feeling and acting like a marginalized sick person.

A couple of years ago I had the extraordinary opportunity to work at Facebook, with the company's world-class communications team. From that vantage I got an up-close look at many poignant stories of community and connection, empathy and altruism, strong will and good will. Now that's my story, too.

I call it the Facebook force field, or my social media safety net. When I stumble, there are so many virtual hands to catch me. People come together from all parts of my life to shield me, not from sadness or pain, but from ever feeling that I am going through this alone.

This column originally appeared on For more by Jennifer Glass, click here.
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