The cover photo across the top of her Facebook profile says, “I Believe” over a background of pink bricks. And in speaking to Lisa Minakowski on the phone, it’s evident that she really does believe.
Lisa and I reconnected on Facebook late last year as the result of some mutual friends. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and she was the kid sister to some guys I hung out with back in the seventies.
Then in December of 2011, shortly after we connected online, she announced to her Facebook friends that she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Over the past year she was open, sharing her journey with us online, from chemo to a mastectomy to radiation treatments, in a very public and positive way.
But why share so openly on Facebook, and even more so by blogging about it?
She says only a few close friends were aware early on, but once she got the diagnosis, that was it; she put it out there.
“For me, Facebook has been fantastic,” Lisa says. “I can’t think of a better support system. But I was conscious that I never wanted to get into the TMI-issues. Facebook is such a great social media to connect with people, but in terms of what I was going through, I was conscious that the boy I sat next to in 8th grade math didn’t sign up for this.”
As a result, Lisa was conscious not to share some of the more personal things on Facebook, but started a blog, Uplifted Boobs: My Battle with Breast Cancer, where people could read her story if they chose.
“I joke about stuff there,” she says. “That’s how I deal with things; getting out my emotions and talking more about the treatment side of things. The blog is more where my heart is. It is very difficult. It’s therapeutic, I think. I’ve always been the type to show no weakness, hide that side. I’m not trying to show that I’m some sort of super woman, I’m human.”
And the reaction from others? She received such an outpouring from friends and others she couldn’t keep up with the messages.
“I have had friends from high school, their sisters, mothers, girlfriends, all reaching out to me,” says Lisa. “It exploded from people sharing my blog link, some of whom have been newly diagnosed or have just started some form of treatment. They tell me I’ve been an encouragement. I went through a period where I said, ‘I don’t want to talk about cancer anymore’. It’s always on your mind, so I got to a point where I just had to be done for a bit. But every time I feel like shutting down from the world, I get an email from someone who tells me I’m an inspiration.”
So she keeps going. It’s a cycle. She receives support and inspiration from those who have gone before her, and now she is able to use social media to be there for others. She is particularly fond of three organizations that have been there for her: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Young Survival Coalition, and Stand Up for the Cure.
Having gone through this, Lisa has a few pieces of advice for those who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer:
- Stay offline at first. Don’t consult with Dr. Google. Wait to talk to your doctor about YOUR cancer. Lisa says she quickly went to Google and was convinced her symptoms meant that she had every disease and form of cancer under the sun.
- Laugh when you are happy, cry when you’re sad, and scream when you’re angry. “You don’t have to be superhuman. I’m a mom and wife and very involved in things, but you get caught up in trying to be superwoman. I almost got robotic. I forgot I was human.”
- People really do care. “People will offer you advice, and it can get annoying, but you need to remember that they are doing so because they care. I was getting defensive about my cancer, but people just wanted to help. People love me and they are just trying to help.”
- Find humor wherever you can, and try to tell yourself that all of this is temporary. All of the emotional and physical aspects of the treatments are temporary. They will end.
And for Lisa, this is temporary, but it will always be there in the back of her mind.
“Having Cancer is like being in the mafia: you can get out, but you’re always looking over your shoulder,” she says. “Every check-up I go to I’m always going to be worried. It’s never done. I think I will just keep going, and if there’s something I want to write about, I’ll put it out. At times I just want to walk away from the discussion, but part of me feels I have a responsibility, that I have to say something. I want people to know that I am there for them.”
Sometime in the first week of November she’ll finish up her radiation treatments, ring the bell, and declare loudly, “Cancer, you didn’t stand a chance!”
Lisa believes, and so do I.