How an iPad, a camera, and a Tumblr blog saved my life

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Gadgets give us an easier way to find recipes, joke with friends, and kill time on the subway, but they can also have a much grander impact on our lives. This holiday season, we’re stepping back to appreciate those moments. In our ongoing series, Tech That Changed Us, DT writers will share personal tales of how tech has truly reshaped their lives for the better. We hope it has for you, too.

I was sitting in the second row of my 7:50 a.m. World Civ class at university when I went to scratch an itch on my neck and noticed for the first time a poolball-sized lump underneath my collarbone.

A month later, on December 7, 2011, I was diagnosed with stage III Hodgkin lymphoma.

Just one day after receiving the official diagnosis, I made my way down to the Simon Cancer Center at Indiana University in Indianapolis to hear my oncologist’s game plan to attack the cancer at its core. It was there, in the fluorescent-lit room on the oncology floor, that I sat alongside my mother, father, and fiancée as Dr. Larry Cripe told me I would need to undergo seven sessions of ABVD chemotherapy treatments.

Morbidly excited about the new journey I was about to embark on, I inquired as to when my first treatment would begin. Without hesitation and with his signature stoic glare, Cripe responded with a subdued, “Today, if that’s fine by you.” Naively, I pounced at the opportunity to get treatment started and prepared myself for the long walk down the second floor corridors to the infusion center.

Once the labs were finalized and paperwork was complete, I entered the infusion room, where I sat alongside fellow cancer patients to take in the cocktail of chemicals whose ultimate goal was to kill me just enough to keep me alive. It was the beginning of a long journey that ultimately took seven months to complete and required me to take a semester off from school to focus on, well, staying above ground.

Until this point in my life, I had never been a writer in any official capacity. I had written a couple dozen essays for college and pieced together a few intrinsic insights on a private blog, but nothing of mine was published for the world to see.

Inspired by the desire to share my journey with the world, I decided to use the one thing I had always held near and dear to my life to tell my story. Technology.

With the camera equipment I had amassed as a photographer, a new iPad in my possession, and the growing desire to explore unknown territory in storytelling, I decided to create “As Each Day Goes On,” a Tumblr blog that gave an inside look at what it was like to battle cancer from the perspective of a patient.

As Each Day Goes On didn’t have a definitive direction or any sort of editorial goal. Its only purpose was as therapy for me to get my thoughts out of my head, to update friends and family on how I was progressing through each treatment, and to hopefully inspire anyone who was going through cancer or who knew someone going through it.

Using my Canon T1i, and 16-35mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, and 50mm f/1.8 leness, I captured as many photographs as I could throughout my journey. From the drives down to Indianapolis, to the long walks down the dim hallways that led to CT scans, I used photography to show a first-person view of chemotherapy. I shared a select few of those images with the world on As Each Day Goes On, alongside words I had somehow managed to type up on my iPad while sitting in the reclining chair inside the infusion center.

Little by little, these entries and images were shared around the globe by fellow Tumblr bloggers, friends, family, and acquaintances. With the views came questions, anonymous and otherwise, from curious readers who were always welcome to submit inquiries. I would then do my best to answer them on the blog.

Unlike my cancer, which was shrinking by the week, As Each Day Goes On was growing. Every day, I would receive messages from others who had either beat cancer or knew someone who had, thanking me for giving them insight into the experience and sharing my journey. At a time when everything seemed to be numbed by the grab bag of painkillers and chemotherapy drugs, Tumblr, my camera, my iPad, and the internet as a whole became a place for inspiration and relief in the most unlikely form. The blog helped keep me going as much as any chemotherapy. It reminded me that I was not alone in this battle.

Eventually, I had to take a break from As Each Day Goes On. Despite only having treatment every other week, it took its toll, both physically and psychologically, to that point that even talking about treatment made me gag. Although I wanted little more than to continue sharing my story, every time I would attempt to finish a sentence or reply to a question, I would have painful mental flashbacks to the last infusion.

After treatments were done, I came back to the blog and did my best to pick up where I left off. But, much like the cancerous cells inside my body, it never came back to life. It now serves as a poignant reminder of how something so seemingly simple as a blog on an iPad can inspire and change a life.

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