Two days ago, I got an e-mail from a stranger asking me if I was the same Michael who works as a newspaper editor and who was diagnosed with parathyroid cancer. Evidently, she did a Google blog search and found my blog.
The woman signed her name and listed her job title and work phone number. She is a project editor at a TV station on the West Coast.
I did a Google search of my own and learned that she also was, and perhaps still is, a health reporter for the station.
I was apprehensive in responding. I envisioned TV cameras and probing questions for a news report on rare illnesses -- not that I mind discussing my situation, but at least a blog affords as much anonymity as one chooses.
Still, I replied.
It turns out she wasn't doing research for a story.
She was diagnosed last summer and was anxiously looking for someone with whom to share information on the illness and on treatment options. She said she could find precious little useful information on the Internet, just gloom-and-doom mortality statistics and articles written in impenetrable medical jargon.
Above all, she was looking for people with this cancer with whom she could talk and ask questions.
So now, my circle of instant friends linked by a common plight has widened to three, including myself. I know one other person with this illness. He lives just 20 minutes from me and we've become good friends.
I advised the woman not to resort to the Internet for information on this illness, and I would give this same advice to anyone with any illness. There's a lot of misinformation out there, more than you could ever imagine.
In the case of parathyroid cancer, a little-understood disease, this is especially true. A lot of the information on the Internet is woefully outdated and doesn't reflect the latest data on surgical and pharmacological treatments.
This caveat also applies to whom one asks for advice. I related to the woman my own horrific experience with the morons at the American Cancer Society. Around the time I was diagnosed, I made the mistake of calling the ACS for some insight into this disease. A "nurse" there read to me from a textbook -- that turned out to be a decade old -- about the illness, and the picture of demise this book painted had me convinced that I needed to make out my will as soon as possible.
Anyway, I'm glad to meet another person with whom to share my experiences in ways I can with very, very few others.
This anecdote has no point other than to show how small a world this has become. It also shows that for those of us in difficult situations who find comfort in sharing with people in similar or identical circumstances, the Internet can be a blessing.