Internet – friend or foe?

20 years ago when diagnosed with cancer we would have relied upon the information and resources provided by our medical teams.  Perhaps we may also have covertly visited the library to read up on any information that they could provide.  Perhaps, in a hushed voice, we would have spoken to family members or colleagues about the c-word.

The internet has opened up the whole world to each of us who has online access.  We can pop a word or phrase into a search engine and up comes the results from Australia, India, Europe or perhaps, from just up the road.  Is all this information helpful?  Does it make you question your medical treatment or prognosis more or does it help with decisions?  Do you search for a better result with each click?

My personal experience has led me to love and hate the internet in equal proportions.  Sometimes my best friend and at other times my arch enemy.  On the one hand it provided instant access to information, online forums, support groups and a world of possibilities.  On the other, it was confusing, opinionated and at times terribly misleading.

I trawled through pages and pages of returned Google searches, I yahoo’d, Bing’d, Asked Jeeves and a squillion other methods to find anything and everything I could.  I would go from page to page eventually ending up at the end of a Google search… you’ll know yourself that you rarely flick past page 3 of a returned search result but I would go to the end in the hope that there would be a breadcrumb there.

I found information, I scanned the results, I wished I understood medical jargon better and my thesaurus became a new friend (my doctor friends, I’m sure, were fed up of me calling them and pronouncing names wrongly whilst asking what something meant!).  I read the words and all the pages and often read paragraphs that weren’t even there.  But what I realised after a while was that I was only retaining the worst statistics, creating a world that was more frightening than the page of information suggested, I guess it was like being presented with a page of 20 points, 19 great ones and 1 not so great.  I’d only remember reading the 1.

So, was the internet useful?  Yes, absolutely.  But I had to learn (to teach myself) to read it all, to focus on the positive points.  To reread the positive 19 points over and over until they were all that I could remember.  To drink in the information that was good and to read, then acknowledge and then discard the point that wasn’t.  I had to learn to look to the positive and re-write a paragraph so that it was right for me.  I learnt to store information for a later date by reading it and putting it to the back of my mind until I was ready.  Sometimes because I knew that a situation would arise that I would need to draw on that information and at other times because I needed to retrieve it only when I was with a friend or my doctor to discuss it and understand it further.

I think the biggest lesson that I will share with you, is learn to love the internet and the information it presents to you.  Read everything you wish and to ignore things that you find tough.  Don’t feel guilty about not reading every word and stop when you’ve had enough.  Take a pen and paper and write down a positive thing from every article/page you read.  List them like bullet points and refer to them later when the other 1 ’not so great’ point pops in to your head.  If you’re unsure of content or stuck on what something means, print it out, highlight it and ask a professional now.  If that’s not possible, use it as a reference point another day and look for more information that may make the first article easier to interpret.

Another important lesson… don’t believe everything you read!  It may be that the writings in a forum, blog or article aren’t that of a professional but someone’s opinion.  It may also be that the text has been taken out of context or that your intepretation of their written word would have been different if they’d been able to deliver it to you verbally.  If you find something that you’re not sure about, seek out the ying to the yang; or print it out and ask a friend/medic for their interpretation; or simply, bookmark it to read again at another time.

One final word, there’s a lot of information on the internet and despite pages like there will also be more written and available to you.  But also remember to heed the advice from and “turn off your computer, and go have fun!”

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