Week 1 – Content

Click the title of each topic to expand that section.

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What are blogs?

Blogs are personal journals on the internet. They provide a way for you to share your specific story with the world. The best way to get an appreciation for what a blog is, is to read a few different blogs. Below I’ve selected a few blog posts that describe why bloggers blog. Note especially that blogs do not need to be text based, and you do not need to be a “writer” to be a blogger. Typically, after one has blogged for a while, one then realizes that they are indeed writers – but most of us didn’t start out that way.

Throughout this course, and as it progress, I ask cancer bloggers if they are willing to be mentors for new cancer bloggers. The cancer blog mentors all blog. Their blogs provide great examples of different styles of cancer blogging. Here are links to their blogs. Careful you could easily spend all day reading their blogs.

Tip: Each of these blogs appears in the right sidebar on the various pages of this course. If you’d like to be a cancer blog mentor, please contact Rebecca. We’d love to add new mentors to this list.

If you are not yet comfortable reading cancer blogs, you can do this same activity with blogs on a different topic. Here are a few of my favorite travel and lifestyle related blogs:


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Blogging, Writing Therapy, and Journalling

Some of you may be familiar with writing therapy or journalling (see http://ahha.org/ExpressiveWriting.htm) – a way to help you deal with the impact cancer has on your life. Blogging and writing therapy both share the desire to write your feelings and experiences on the page. One of the biggest differences between blogging and writing therapy or journalling is that with blogging you are writing for an audience. Even if you are really just writing for yourself, when you blog, you are writing with an outward focus – a desire to share a piece of yourself with some audience.

Blogging and writing therapy need not be mutually exclusive. Writing therapy provides prompts to help inspire your writing. These prompts can, in turn, provide a source of inspiration for your blog.

For me, personally, I’ve always been someone who writes for some audience. I have worked as a technical writer and instructional designer – both professional writing jobs. I have never been good at maintaining a journal. Knowing that someone is reading my writing means that I have to form my thoughts in a more coherent way than if I am just writing for myself. It is this internal struggle with how to phrase some aspect of my experience that causes me to better understand my cancer journey. It is through writing for an audience that I am able to better explore a topic. I don’t get the same cathartic release when I write only for myself.


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Blogs versus websites

The key difference between a blog and a website is that a website is typically static content. A blog typically includes some form of ‘journalling’ that allows you to share your progress through some form of journey. A website is typically something that is designed to send a specific message as a snapshot in time, rather than a continuous journal. As an individual, you may wish to have a website that demonstrates who you are a professional, but you may wish a blog to share your journey or learning.

The line between blog and website is getting blurred. Many people use blogging software such as WordPress to create static websites that are easy to update. Others use mostly static websites to create the sense of blogging – sharing individual stories as a one time snapshots of a specific aspect of the journey.

The skills you learn as a blogger can be easily transferred into skills in creating websites.

For example, I created http://ipad-fm.ca as a static portfolio of ways in which iPads can be used in medical education. It uses the same software (WordPress) that I use to host my blog http://BCBecky.com. This website (http://shouldiblog.org) provides an interesting hybrid of blog and website. Most of the content is intended to remain static – for example, the page you are reading now. However, there is the Announcements menu which is intended to be updated on regular intervals as the course progresses.

Tip: The Announcements are created using “posts” where the core content of the site is created using “pages”.



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Anatomy of a Blog

I find the image here a useful way to help orient you to the different parts of a blog website – Click for a full screen image: Anatomy of a Blog. You may wish to print this out. It is handy when considering what features you like and don’t like on a given blog.


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Why blog your cancer journey?

The perspective of the cancer patient is poorly understood by healthcare professionals, family, and friends. Blogging provides a way for others to develop a better understanding of the journey you are going through. It helps provide meaning to your diagnosis. Writing also has a healing effect. There will be times in your journey where you just cannot say the words but when you go to write them, you discover that you can write them – but that in the act of writing your feelings change.

When Brandie Langer describes why she blogs in this blog post: http://journeyof1000stitches.blogspot.com/2014/11/why-do-i-do-this.html – her explanation could be true for most of us cancer bloggers. Nancy Stordahl explains how blogging allows you to become part of a community and how every voice matters – http://nancyspoint.com/should-you-blog/, and I explain why I blog at – http://bcbecky.com/2015/02/should-i-blog-and-why-i-blog/

When asked why cancer bloggers blog, they replied:

  • Beth Gainer: “I blog to develop a sense of community, to be heard, and to help others know they are not alone. When I was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatments, I felt isolated and unheard. There were support groups, but they didn’t help me. I wish social media had been around then. Writing about my cancer experience is cathartic because I am able to process it and express myself freely and authentically. I am grateful to be in a community of like-minded individuals who may have differing opinions but who are part of a community that fosters mutual respect.” (for the full post see http://bethgainer.com/writing-process/)
  • Katie Miller Leadbetter: “After telling my closest friends and family about my diagnosis, I “came out” on Facebook. (To me, it felt that I was hiding a huge part of myself until I shared the news with the world, so I compare it to coming out of the closet, especially since it was 5 weeks from when I find my tumor, to telling the world- it felt like forever). After that a friend suggested writing a blog and many suggested writing as a way of coping. I got such an overwhelming response from my Facebook friends, that I thought it would be easier to share information about my journey through a blog. I also didn’t know anyone my age (31) facing cancer, so I thought I could pass along my experiences for those that (unfortunately) may have to face cancer in their future.”
  • Norma Martinez Pitzer-Kelly: “After everything that happened to me in 2010 I decided that I hadn’t gone through all that for nothing, I was supposed to help others, and so I started to blog, I put out inspirational, don’t quit messages which I hoped would give others the courage to fight their battles too. Kind of a “if I can get through all this, just think what you can do” thing.”
  • Elissa Malcohn: “It seemed a natural outgrowth of the writing and publishing I’ve done all along. Since my Open Diary days I have blogged at other sites. After my diagnosis I chose to keep a blog specific to my breast cancer experience (http://csn.cancer.org/blog/224566), both as documentation and — if I’ve done my job right — as a teaching tool, in case my experience can help others.”
  • Caroline Frankovich Ronten: “I learned about blogging in the early 2000’s when I worked in the legal industry where many attorneys were starting write and read legal blogs on law changes and new cases. I then started reading some blogs on line but not regularly. At my second cancer diagnosis in 2007, I decided I was going to be more outspoken about my cancer treatment and use it to communicate with friends and family with updates. I did not want to receive a million phone calls or emails to respond to. I found writing to be very therapeutic and allowed me to vent about my continued health issues after active treatment. As my health has continued its downward spiral, it allows me to continue to vent.”
  • Marie Ennis O’Connor: “Writing for Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer and linking into a community of liked-minded bloggers has been the single most empowering thing that I have done in my journey with cancer.  It has enriched my experience, brought new friendships into my life and expanded my horizons like nothing else. Cancer can be a frightening and lonely experience. Being able to write about it honestly and unsparingly and connect with others is a powerful release mechanism.  Sometimes the very act of writing our story and having it heard and acknowledged can go a long way towards healing our wounded selves; to quote Riva Greenberg: “we heal a bit every time we are heard, seen and cared for”. Blogging in a community we bear witness to our own life and to others; we find strength and solace for the journey.”

    When I started out on this blogging journey I started off by telling my own story, but as I realized that my story is the story of so many of us, I wanted to share your stories too so we could lessen the feelings of isolation.  A diagnosis of cancer leaves a common legacy which in many ways we share, but equally our experience differs from each other in many ways too. While our experiences may differ at times, we share a common bond through learning to live with the myriad challenges of our lives.  I continue to blog because I am still healing the wounds that cancer left behind. This is my soft place to fall whenever life’s challenges threaten to overwhelm me. This is my community of support and compassion. It is also a space to celebrate our joys and triumphs together.”

    (for the full post see: http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2015/01/13/blogging-my-way-through-breast-cancer-and-beyond/)

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Following Blogs

One of the benefit of blogging is the sense of community that happens when you blog. In order to be more connected to the community, it is a good idea to follow and comment on other people’s blogs. As a blogger, you’ll soon discover how nice it feels when someone else comments on your blog. Here is a great article by Lucy Ferriss on the art of leaving comments on blogs: Love, Blog Me Do. (You Know I blog You).

One of the easiest ways to follow blogs and dynamic websites is to use a tool known as an RSS Reader. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and are also known as aggregators because they aggregate internet content. Any website that supports RSS can be viewed in an RSS Reader. Most dynamic websites will have a link to subscribe to their RSS Feed or show the RSS icon.

An RSS Reader keeps track of which posts you have read, and lets you know when new posts appear. There are plenty of RSS Readers out there, as with most web-based technology, the best way to discover which apps are the best apps is to Google the app type and the word review (e.g. “RSS Reader review”). If you use a SmartPhone or Tablet, I recommend the RSS Reader Feedly.com because it has nice visual apps that work on multiple platforms.

Note when reading reviews, Google Reader is no longer available.

For a tutorial on how to setup Feedly see: Tips for Emerging Scholars From EdMedia Getting Published

The big disadvantage to Feedly is that you need to be online in order to use it – that is, if you don’t have an active Internet connection it doesn’t work. Mr. Reader, an app available for your iPad is a great RSS reader for your iPad (especially great for catching up on blogs while waiting to see the doctor). It automatically downloads posts when you are connected, so that you have access to them when you don’t have an active Internet connection. It synchronizes with Feedly, so you still have a record of which blog posts you have already read.

As a blogger, if you want people to be able to easily follow your blog, you will want to ensure that your blogging platform supports RSS (most do). In addition, you may wish to use social media (Twitter and Facebook) to advertise that you have a new blog post. We’ll talk more about that in Week 4.

Another way to follow blogs is using Facebook. If the blogger has setup a Facebook Page for their blog, you can see updates on your Facebook stream by Liking their Facebook page. For example, if you want to see updates to my blog, you like: https://www.facebook.com/bcbeckydotcom. Nancy also has a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/NancysPoint. You may wish to setup a Facebook Page for your blog. One of the big advantages of this is that it means you do not need to be Facebook friends with people that you do not know, who want to follow your blog (e.g. the friends of your parents).



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