My Twitter Window To The World During Chemo

The spring of 2011 was a momentous time for me: I made a twitter account, jumped from a flip phone to an iPhone, and was diagnosed with cancer… in no particular order.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think these three events would be interconnected at all. Obviously, if we were to play “one of these things is not like the other,” it’s pretty glaringly obvious which “thing” is the red-headed bastard child of the bunch. (The answer is twitter, because twitter is free and the other two can be very expensive.)

As I stood at the precipice of these monumental events in my life, I had no idea what I was in for in the coming months. Never had I ever been involved in a love triangle before, and little did I know I was about to dive head first, nay, belly flop into a tangled web of passion and drama that involved my cancerous self, my twitter account, and my beloved iPhone. Days of our Chemo Lives, As the Twitter World Turns. Call it what you will: it was about to get real up in my bed chamber. And I mean that in the least sexual way possible.

Before chemotherapy began, my twitter account was still pretty tame. Installing the twitter app on my iPhone was really just another way of staying up to speed with (read: stalking) my friends’ lives and the funny things they do/say/think on a regular basis. However, when it became apparent that chemo was actually a brutal five-day hangover in disguise, I began to delve into a more dangerously intimate relationship with my iPhone/twitter account. You see, besides staring at the ceiling, wrapping my feeble little fingers around my phone and scrolling was the only activity I could convince my sloth-like self to partake in. Watching TV wasn’t usually a desirable option, because the screen was too bright for my headache. Using my laptop didn’t seem enticing either, because that would require me to sit up in some way. Thus, iPhone in hand, I began my love-hate journey through the twitterverse.

Because I suddenly had hours upon hours with nothing to do but sleep and scroll, I decided it was high time I became a truly well-informed citizen of the world. My teacher lifestyle, coupled with my less than graceful transition into the real world, had left me with little time to stay sharp on politics and current events. My cancer lifestyle coupled with the twitterverse, on the other hand, left me with ample time for such affairs. Armed with a sudden hunger for knowledge, I began aggressively following every newspaper, news site and magazine I could think of. You name it, I more than likely followed it. I had a fever, and the only prescription was more tweets. Except really, I had lymphoma, and what I probably needed was more meds.

As it turns out, my gluttonous hyper-attention to political and cultural happenings with only ‘tweeps’ as my guide was a recipe for disaster. It quickly turned into a trifecta of confusion, anxiety, and growing angst. The walls of my bed chamber seemed to be closing in on me the more I scrolled and read, but I still couldn’t stop. There were so many questions, and my questions led to more questions: Was the state of the world always this dire, and I just hadn’t been paying enough attention, or are things really, truly hitting the fan? Are corrupt bankers really ruining the world? Are protesters actually pooping in the streets? Unemployment is how low? Casey Anthony did what? My brain was turning into a twitter feed.

Instead of napping, I would half-consciously hallucinate about the news. Anything was fair game: The financial crises at home and abroad. The Republican primaries. Any situation in the Middle East. The rising cost of healthcare. Kim Kardashian’s marriage. Kim Kardashian’s divorce. Rebecca Black’s rise to YouTube stardom. All of it was hitting me in a constant stream of bad news, and all of it was giving me severe anxiety. As if cancer wasn’t enough, I had voluntarily added the weight of the world onto my shoulders. Looking back, it’s possible this was some sort of subconscious coping mechanism, or a weird way of escaping my own less than ideal situation. Either way, I had officially gone insane.

This toxic little threesome went on for a few months. From time to time, I would even attempt to engage my family in political discussions, because that’s what you do when you’ve gone insane.

When I tried to ask my little sister what she thought about Zuccotti Park, and she responded by asking if it was a new dish at the Olive Garden, something in me finally became self-aware. I realized that I needed an intervention in the form of five thousand chill pills, and I needed it fast.

Shortly thereafter, I Skyped with my college roommate who’s a Peace Corps volunteer living abroad. She rarely has internet, let alone twitter, so this Skype session was a treat and a much needed break from my love drug(s). After getting updates on her life thousands of miles away, I proceeded to fill her in on all the problems on the home front and my growing instability concerning these problems in one incoherent stream of verbal diarrhea. I told her that all signs pointed to the Mayan apocalypse and I didn’t know what to do about it, especially since I could barely get up to go to the bathroom.

As any best friend would, she told me I needed to relax and that I was, as I suspected, acting a little bit like a crazy person. What she said next was enough to lift me out of the fog of my insanity and chemo hangover.

It went something like this: “Listen, no matter what happens, even if angry mobs take over the world, or our society ends up with about as much integrity as Kim Kardashian’s marriage, at the end of the day, we’ll still most likely have food, clothing, shelter, family and friends. That’s all we really need. There’s a lot of good news in the world too, so don’t drive yourself crazy. YOLO. It will be okay. Sorry though, I have to go, the sun’s about to set and I need to hitchhike back to my village on the back of a chicken truck. Talk to you soon! Miss you!”

Her response, and the imagery accompanying her response, was a cyber slap in the face. I had been viewing the world through such a tiny, technological window for so long that I had forgotten my warped perspective wasn’t the only perspective. From my friend’s viewpoint halfway across the world, society’s struggles, as well as my own personal struggles, somehow didn’t seem nearly as bleak. Where she was at the time, there were no iPhones for miles, and the only tweets were those of actual birds. And still, somehow, she knew much more than I did.

Technology can be a great thing: it keeps us intelligent and informed citizens, and connects us to an ever-growing global community. However, there is something to be said for knowing when to turn it off and take a step back. To paraphrase T.I. and Rihanna, sometimes you need to unplug and simply “live ya life,” actively present in the moment.

As cliché as it sounds, life really is too short to be crazy instead of happy. The same day I talked to my college roommate, I un-followed half of my news-providers on twitter, and followed a few funny and uplifting accounts in their place. Then, I gave my iPhone/twitter a rest. It’s not that I now wanted to ignore society’s problems; it was more so that I learned just how important moderation and perspective are in a world that’s constantly streaming with information.

In my case, viewing the world through my twitter window was probably still better than just staring at the ceiling all day. However, I learned the hard way, via a love triangle of cancer, twitter, and my iPhone, that it’s much, much better to view the world through an actual window. And, if there’s anything I learned from my friend that day, it’s that the world looks best when lived somewhere like on the back of a chicken truck — outside of windows. TC mark

image – Glyn Lowe Photos

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  • Allie

    This was smart, funny, and touching. I hope you’re doing better one year later, and that you’re only following one or two news sources on Twitter! They all say the same thing, anyways.

  • alyssafirth

     “It’s not that I now wanted to ignore society’s problems; it was more so that I learned just how important moderation and perspective are in a world that’s constantly streaming with information.”
    Now let’s broadcast that to everyone and go outside and have a picnic.

  • Anonymous

    I really like the bizarre, almost dystopian idea of being holed up somewhere and only seeing the world through Twitter. Must have been so surreal.

  • vanessa

    The way this article is written and the comparison between you going through the hardest time in your life, how your IPhone saved/killed your sanity, and how our society revolves around social networks is awesome. As a Hodgkin’s survior myself I totally understand the 5 day hang over of laying on the couch with nothing to do because you can hardly DO anything, only IPhone’s weren’t even invented when I was going through it. Kudos to you my fellow survivor and keep kicking ass.

    • Katie

      Vanessa – so glad you’re doing well now!  The five day hangover is the worst, but it definitely makes you appreciate feeling normal/healthy after the fact. I know you feel me. Thanks for reading!!

  • Mary Prager

    amazeballs, thats what you are

  • Kelsey Carroll

    Reading this blog on my IPhone… A walking contradiction. Well done!

  • Guest

    This is so beautiful and hillarious and enlightening
    and also I just watched that little dance video of yours, you are amazing. that is all.

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