Why would you want to open up and share an incredibly personal, intimate and challenging life experience with complete strangers? Why share your experiences, lessons learned and perspective as you work through any of life’s challenges?
In a few words, to help yourself and others.
I started an email group during my first week in hospital after being diagnosed with leukemia. Initially I had two things on my mind. One was that I didn’t physically have the energy to stay in contact with my friends and family who wanted updates on my condition and the road ahead. An email group allowed me to write them all in one message. It was also something I could do when I had the energy and desire, both the sending and receiving of email. It made so much sense and allowed me to stay in touch with those who cared.
The second reason was that I had this feeling in my gut that I was going to experience some amazing things, both those that were “good” and “not so good.” And I felt I wanted to share those experiences and the lessons I learned as a result. This was one of the most significant decisions I have ever made.
As I look back and now recognize that while keeping people updated with as little energy as possible and sharing my experiences were my two conscious reasons for sharing my experiences, there was another below the surface. My email group also served, and still serves, as a major support system for me. There was no place for me to connect with others experiencing the same things I was so I relied on those closest to me, even though they weren’t young cancer patients. Their perspective and support made a huge difference in my life.
So I opened up, sharing the ins and outs of hospital, chemo, bone marrow transplant, nurses and docs, medications, side-affects, my thoughts, fears, feelings, it was all out there and still is really. You can read all of my emails from the start in my blog titled My Journey
Anytime you open yourself up and share your perspective on something you are bound to have those who agree and disagree with you. And that’s ok, it’s natural. I think it was Bill Cosby who said, “I don’t know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
I felt a really important part of sharing was to tell my truth, the honest perspective that was mine and I still do that. And I have learned and experienced first hand just what happens when you open up and be honest with people. Most often they respond with openness and honesty themselves.
In addition to my email group, I’ve chosen to share my story in the media and with thousands of students. People respond to honesty. There’s no real magic to sharing your experience other than doing it, that is the magic. I often wish that everyone could experience what I do when writing an email, doing an interview, giving a speech and then receiving feedback from the audience. I used to call it “completing the transaction.” Having said that, from my perspective the sharing is the reward, putting your perspective out there for others in an open, honest manner, that is one of the best experiences I’ve had. It is really nice when people respond to that honesty.
I know that being open about what can often be very private experiences is not for everyone but I do believe strongly that sharing our challenges and triumphs is an important part of learning and growing from our experiences. Complementing our own learning is the learning that others may gain from your experiences. Some lessons in life we have to learn through experience but many are taught to us by others who have the benefit of experience.
I realized a long time ago that often times there’s nothing special about my sharing other than the fact that I’m still here to share. Sometimes that is the most inspiring thing I do is just be here. Especially to someone who is struggling through a challenge that appears insurmountable. Many times the most inspiring thing for a person dealing with a tough situation is to connect with someone who has been where they are and came through it. That alone is reason for us young people who have dealt with cancer to share our story, so those who come after us know that you can make it through.
That doesn’t mean you have to go to the newspaper and tell your story to the world, but I would encourage everyone to share their story, you can make a difference in the lives of others, and isn’t that one of the main reasons we’re here?