Most of us have had an experience involving someone we love and cancer. Even when the beast is defeated there simply nothing funny about cancer. About 13% of all people who died in 2007 were taken by cancer.
In the US in 2008, some 11 million people were afflicted by cancer. Drew Olanoff, 29, a Philadelphia-raised developer became one of them, when a lump on his neck turned out to be lymphoma, one of the most treatable of all cancers when caught in early phases. Except Drew's cancer was detected in Stage 3, which is not an early phase. It had first appeared on his neck but had spread into his chest and abdomen.
It meant Drew would have to cancel plans to move to Los Angeles where he had just been hired as online communities director for mobile text pioneer GOGII. Instead, he moved in with his mom in Swedesboro, NJ where he immediately began chemo treatment and neulasta shots every 2 weeks. He has completed 4, and has 5 to go.
Drew is a self-admitted geek, known and popular in the Web 2.0 community and long active, particularly in social media and Twitter. Like many people with cancer and other chronic and threatening diseases, Drew turned to social media for support.
What is different for Drew is his injection of humor. He created a Twitter hashtag called #BlameDrewsCancer. Read through that list of thousands of tags, and I'm wagering you will have no choice but to smile if not bursting out laughing. Then you stop and think, "Wait, I'm laughing about some guy's cancer."
Your entertainment helps Drew. It supports and encourages him to fight the fight he has to face. He knows he is not alone. He knows people are on his side.
Drew started what has become a Twitter meme, by blaming his cancer on his missing keys or yet another loss by his beloved Phillies. Soon others joined in. Among them is cancer survivor Lance Armstrong who blamed Drew's cancer for a sore shoulder. This has led to Drew's increasing involvement in LIVESTRONG, Armstrong's online cancer-fighting community.
Drew has guest blogged at LIVESTRONG. When people blame Drew's cancer at LIVESTRONG they are requested to donate a dollar per complaint. Drew is searching for a corporate sponsor to match the funds.
Here are my questions for Drew and his answers.
Q1 When you first noticed you had a lump, what was your initial response? When you showed it to your mom, what was her response? How did the doctor break the news of cancer to you?
I first noticed I had a lump a week or two before I left San Francisco. I took pictures of it and my mom's response was "it could be anything." I already knew I was coming home to visit before I headed off to LA and GOGII, so it seemed reasonable. When I got the diagnosis, the doctor called me into the office. I knew it wasn't good. He was direct, and scheduled my first chemo treatment right then and there.
Q2 What were your first thoughts when you discovered you had cancer?
"Dammit." Probably because I knew deep down something was not right. Because of the tests and the feedback from the doctor and surgeon, I knew it was a probability. (Lymphoma of some type, Hodgkin's being the easier to treat of the two) When I got "the call" I broke down. Both of my parents were there at the time, luckily.
Q3 What made you decide to turn to social media? Were you aware of other people in social media with cancer?
I always feel like I want to share. Not because I want attention, but this is my chosen profession. If I'm going to share something funny, great, or sad ... then I better keep things real. And this was as real as it got. I have a lot of friends on Twitter and various other social networks ... even if I haven't met them in person. I wasn't aware of that many people who were that public. In retrospect I was wrong.
Q4 How did you get the idea for #BlameDrewsCancer?
I started blaming things on my cancer a week before I was diagnosed officially. The doctor had said it looks like a lymphoma so I took that as my diagnosis. I blamed things on my cancer, and my mom's initial response was "You don't know that its cancer," to which I'd respond "Yes, I do." I wanted to turn it into a site since I'm a geek. Ran it by my longtime mentor Micki Krimmel and she said "Do it." So I called Mike Demers whom I worked with for a long time in Seattle, and not only one of my best friends, but a Hodgkins survivor. He said yes immediately and built what you see today.
Q5 What has #BlameDrewsCancer done for you? What about social media in general?
For me, it has allowed me to talk about cancer in a way that not many people can. Cancer scares people, and rightfully so. But there are things that can be done, and are being done. You see it every day with LIVESTRONG and other foundations. What it does for social media is prove the medium even more.
Q6 What are some of your favorite anecdotes from #BlameDrewsCancer?
Blaming my cancer for Nickelback still makes me laugh. But when I woke up to Lance Armstrong blaming my cancer for his shoulder injury, I knew that I struck a chord. An unintended chord as far as reach, but a chord none the less. I've also woken up to people blaming my cancer for the death of loved ones. Difficult, but real.
Q7 Can you share with me some comments--pro or negative, the hashtag has caused.
Zero negative whatsoever. Do I know that things can be misused either for spam or nastiness? Yes. It's a part of the territory. But I'd say that 99% of the tweets come from the heart or the funny part of the heart and that's a wonderful thing.
Q8 What advice do you have for other people with serious or chronic diseases and using social media?
Reach out. You're not alone. If ONE person comes back to you with a sign of support, or an offer of friendship, you've won and the disease has lost.
Q9 How did you become affiliated with LIVESTRONG and Lance Armstrong? How much money have you raised? Just how does it work and how do people contribute?
The day that we launched the site, LIVESTRONG's CEO and community team reached out to me. They asked me if I needed support, needed anything ... and asked me how I was feeling. It meant a lot. To date, we've raised $600 solely for LIVESTRONG, but have raised over $3,000 for the American Cancer Society and $500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
People can donate directly to
LIVESTRONG via a link on http://www.BlameDrewsCancer.
Q10 additional comments?
Cancer picked the wrong people to mess with.