“I was seventeen years old when I acquired this typewriter from the Iowa City Goodwill store,” so begins Elyssa Shalla’s story.
“Its mustard accents, the crisp reflexes of its keys, and its sturdy traveling case were worth the five dollar price tag. Neglected in my parents’ basement, I rediscovered it a decade later, stashed it in the trunk of my car and drove it west to Grand Canyon National Park.”
What happened next was something quite wonderful.
Shalla, a National Park Ranger, used the typewriter to create a pop-up storytelling project for visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park.
As she explains: “In the final 48 hours of 2017 a new ribbon was installed and it was carried in the pannier of a mule named Cookie from Indian Garden to the edge of the Tonto platform in the Grand Canyon.”
For three days at the end of 2017 and early 2018, hikers encountered the typewriter after a 6-mile hike down to a scenic overlook, along with this note.
Dear Hiker, welcome to Plateau Point. You’ve hiked a long ways. Please take a seat in the chair and relax. Look around. Take it all in. What does this moment mean to you?
In three days, Shalla says, hikers left 76 messages, which became the Towers & Type Project.
“We need to provide more opportunities to give people the chance to stop and think and feel at the same time and then give them a platform to share their experiences,” says Shalla. “That’s one of the greatest things we could do in our national parks.”
And, of course, that’s true of everywhere.
Do you ever wonder why so many people share their illness stories online via personal blogs, various websites and social media platforms?
Do you ever ask yourself, who in their right mind would share so many personal details of their life on the internet, for crying out loud?
Yeah, me too.
And yet, like so many others, I do exactly that.
My cancer story began with my mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2004. Despite the fact she was diagnosed with an early-stage, low-grade, hormone-positive breast cancer (supposedly, the good kind), it went on to metastasize in 2007. Roughly six months later, she was dead.
Sandwiched in there, we learned she carried the BRCA2 gene mutation. That was in 2006. My family history is complicated. Whose isn’t, I suppose.
While still grieving and still contemplating genetic testing to see if I, too, carried the same BRCA2 mutation, along came my breast cancer diagnosis. I guess you could say, I contemplated a bit too long. I tested positive for the mutation too, btw.
Six months after my diagnosis, I started my blog, Nancy’s Point. Originally, I had intended to blog about grief and cancer from a daughter’s perspective.
Suddenly, I had a new cancer story to share about as well – mine.
From day one, I knew Nancy’s Point would be a blog about cancer and loss. It had to be. For a lot of reasons, the two are nearly one in the same.
I chose and still choose to tell unvarnished truths about cancer and loss, well, my truths anyway. And believe it or not, I have only scratched the surface.
So, why do so many bloggers (and others) share their illness stories online, and why do I share mine?
It’s all about connections. Humans like feeling connected to others going through similar circumstances. We seek out those connections in Cancer Land; too, and when we find them, we latch on to each other and hold on for dear life. Literally.
Following a traumatic event, there’s a desire to do something with the experience. To give back. To give the experience at least some kind of purpose.
Some feel inspired to create whether it be writing a blog or a book, designing jewelry, painting, taking up photography or whatever the case might be. Whether you are the creator, reader, listener or observer, there is nothing like the healing power of art.
Some are driven to change the status quo by turning into fierce advocates traveling the country, or even the world, working tirelessly to make things better and hopefully a little easier for others walking in, or who will someday be walking in, the ill-fitting shoes of cancer, or whatever the illness might be. Advocacy, too, most often begins with sharing stories.
Others need a place to “put” their cancer (or other illness) experience. Writing a blog, commenting on blogs or sharing on social media about your experience offers exactly that – a concrete place to put it.
Besides, everyone needs to vent now and then, right?
And for some, including me, it’s a combination of all the above.
But why am I still sharing my story and the stories of others?
That one’s a bit harder to answer, and after eight years, I sometimes wonder why myself.
I am still at it as much for myself as for my readers
There are many reasons why I keep doing what I do, I suppose. Some reasons, I can put into words and others I cannot.
Most simply put and for now anyway, I can’t imagine not continuing.
Sharing your illness story online makes you more vulnerable, and yes, there is potential risk involved. It’s the internet, after all; so, you need to set boundaries and think things through before sharing such personal matters.
But the rewards you will likely discover along the way outweigh the risk, at least, this has been the case for me.
It’s empowering to share our stories, possibly more than any of us might realize when we do.
The empowerment comes from each person’s process of sharing her/his unique story. But it also comes from the validation so generously offered by those who listen and bear witness to those stories.
Through sharing, we are all stronger.
What better reason to share could there be than that?
About the Author
Nancy Stordahl is the blogger behind Nancy’s Point and author of three books: Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy, Cancer Was Not a Gift: A memoir about cancer as I know it and Facing Your Mastectomy & Making Reconstruction Decisions. Learn more about them here.
To celebrate the beginning of the new year, I wanted to share with you 20 inspiring quotes to get the year started in the best way possible.
Wishing you a story-filled New Year!
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—‘yes, that is the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days. When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence, the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently. When the destination becomes gracious, the journey
becomes an adventure of beauty.
– John O’Donohue
Terry Hershey tells a wonderful story about the northern Natal tribes in South Africa.
They greet one another each day, saying “Sawa Bona,” which means literally “I see you.” Their response is “Sikhona” which means “I am here.”
They are saying to one another, “until you see me I do not exist; and when you see me you bring me into existence. When you see me, I am fully present, I am here.”
Members of these tribes go about their day with personal validation from everyone they encounter–they are seen for who they are.
They are a community where everybody is a somebody, and the wholeness of each individual coalesces into the wholeness of the community.