In 2010, the LIVESTRONG Foundation initiated the Comparte tu Historia project in Mexico with the goal of raising awareness of the global cancer burden and reducing the stigma associated with cancer. In its first 18 months, the campaign had significant results and changed perceptions about the disease. LIVESTRONG Foundation Global Fellow, Fernando Rodriguez, oversaw the communications and social media aspects of the project in Mexico. He and our International Program Manager, Rebekkah Schear, are highlighting some of campaign’s successes in the upcoming weeks.
by Fernando Rodriguez Hernandez & Rebekkah Schear
2011 was a powerful year for the fight against cancer stigma. As a major part of the Comparte tu Historia campaign, we created a Facebook Fan Page for Spanish speakers around the world in order to provide them with a unique platform to share stories and experiences one-on-one about living with and through cancer.
Through the growth of the Facebook page, connections were forged among new communities with the simple idea of inspiring survivors to share their personal stories about cancer.. Why would someone want to share a difficult part of their life publicly, with strangers? To some, the idea sounds crazy. Yet the answer is simple: Though sharing our stories means inherently being vulnerable, it is really a show of strength, and it is the most effective way to turn a survivor into an advocate.
People in Mexico keep their health to themselves. A disease can make someone seem weak, and most people don’t like the notion that others would pity them. This is one key reason why asking people to share their cancer stories openly was a huge challenge from the beginning. It was an incredible surprise when people started to share not only their stories about cancer, but personal experiences of how cancer changed their views about family, friends, life – about everything.
Over the course of the year, with the sharing of more and more stories on the Facebook page, the social media community began to notice that every story was unique and touched on different aspects of a cancer journey both before and after a diagnosis. Survivors shared that the burden they carried became lighter because they not only had a venue to talk about the stress of cancer, but there was something incredibly powerful about seeing other people change their perceptions and misconceptions about cancer as a result of their own words. Many survivors saw themselves as new human beings after sharing their stories; they had a “new normal.” They turned almost instantly from a person affected by cancer, to a cancer advocate- they utilized what was often a challenging, dark, hard part of their lives, and the fact that they were living with and beyond cancer, as an opportunity to inspire, empower, and support others dealing with the same thing. For many cancer survivors in Mexico, the online platform was the best way to communicate with others, to turn their story into the story of many others. The Facebook page reached over 857,000 monthly over 8 months.
The success of the Comparte tu Historia campaign in Mexico was largely a result of the way we approached the public with positive messages. Again and again, in their own words, survivors explained that cancer was only a chapter in their life story, but not the whole book. A chapter that created a connection to many others not only because of a disease, but because of a cause.
The LIVESTRONG Foundation may have provided the platform, but the community used it, grew it, and made it their own. The power of this project therefore lies in the fact that all people affected by cancer are bound by a common thread- we may be strangers but we are still family in spirit.