Stay in Touch

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Health crises and other life-altering events can leave you feeling isolated and alone. Thankfully, modern technology offers families many tools for staying connected and finding support during hard times.

When my husband courageously battled pancreatic cancer, keeping in touch with friends and family via email was a wonderful support system for us. Though email remains a valuable tool, there are also many websites designed to help people stay connected while enduring life's challenges.

Most people who choose to share their challenges with others find that reaching out often provides much-needed support and encouragement.

"I can't think of anyone that doesn't use social media to keep in touch," said Dr. Tammi Young-Saleme, director of psychosocial services in the hematology and oncology unit at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

However, Young-Saleme noted it can be difficult to decide what may or may not be appropriate to share at any given the time. How much or little someone shares depends on each person's comfort level, she explained.

"I feel it becomes much more individualized," Young-Saleme said. She urges mindfulness when putting information out there for the masses to read because feedback may not always be positive.

"It's an interesting line you walk with what to share and what to hold back," said Perrysburg mom Kim Navarette, who has used social media to stay connected since her 11-year-old son Gabe's diagnosis of a rare salivary-gland cancer.

In other words, Navarette and others advised, if you are struggling with a Facebook or blog update and feeling unsure of what you're about to broadcast to a large audience, save a draft and wait a few hours before deciding whether to hit the "post" button.

Another mom, Kayla, has spent a lot of time at Nationwide Children's Hospital with her 3-year-old son Aiden. (Her last name has been omitted by request because of the sensitive nature of a family member's job.)

Kayla keeps a public Facebook page about Aiden's treatment for multiple genetic disorders, including spina bifida and a type of deletion syndrome, but if she has something difficult or especially private to share, she reserves that post for her personal, closed Facebook page.

"I am always keeping in mind who is reading this," she said.

But taking a risk with privacy can sometimes have huge payoffs for families going through similar situations. Navarette said it was after reading a public post by another family that she became aware of the proton-radiation therapy her son would later receive in Texas. For that reason, she chose to keep her son's CaringBridge page public, in hopes that their information would help others.

Writing about your family's experiences can be therapeutic, and sharing your writing via social media can reduce the stress of unending inquiries about your situation. But don't let the writing process itself become a new source of stress. Blog entries, for example, can be as simple as bullet points highlighting only the pertinent information. They can also be lengthy and elaborate, with photos, links, videos or even inspirational songs.

If you're low on time and energy, or are intimidated by the thought of writing anything, consider appointing a trusted friend or family member to compose the updates for you. Time, after all, is a precious commodity when dealing with life-changing events.

"That's one task you don't have to do," said Young-Saleme.

No matter which site or tool you choose, the mission is the same - to help build communities of support by offering hope, inspiration, compassion and assistance. No one can walk the journey for you, but staying connected with friends and family will allow loved ones to walk the journey with you.