When cancer strikes, you’re going to want information. You’re going to want to get your head around this. You’re going to want to go where you always go for information—the Internet. Please resist the urge. Learn from my mistakes.

Why would I care what you google?  Because here’s what happens.  You go home in a daze from your meeting with the doctor who’s just told you The News. You don’t know what to do with yourself.  You boot up your computer and start looking for [your cancer here].  Naturally, you begin with survival statistics.  Oh wow. Not great. Definitely more serious than you thought.  You start shaking.  You don’t notice this article is from 1985.

Then you decide to search images.  A parade of grotesque formations pops up, crazy ugly piles of globules that seem as tall as buildings, nestled in beds of innocent pink tissue. These are tumors—under a microscope. People call them malignant for a reason.  God, does your tumor look like this? Now you’re in a panic.

You start planning your funeral.  Will anybody miss you?  Probably not.  What did you do to make the world better while you were here?  Nothing.

You feel yourself curling up into a ball.  Remember when your friend Elaine got cancer?  They gave her a year but she went in three months.

You google Elaine.  It wasn’t three months. It was two.

You need some good news! An inspirational story! So you google on and find your doctor’s name mentioned in a blog post. That should help.

Not so much.  The poster hates him.  She says your doctor skimped on her pain meds, dodged her questions, and generally acted an ass.  The poster is anonymous.  Anonymous, and probably addicted to painkillers, you think.

But a little doubt creeps in. Is this doctor really for you?  Will he care about your case?

You reach for the phone.  But your doctor’s gone home for the night.  Anyway, you’d be embarrassed to call. You don’t want to alienate him. He’s about to do surgery on you.  What if he’s so irritated he misses something? Doctors do, you know. You google “malpractice.”

Next thing you know, it’s four a.m. and you’re staring at the ceiling.  You’re not counting sheep, you’re deciding who should get your comic book collection. Your affairs are settled.  Your neighbor will feed your cat. There’s just one thing you forgot:

None of this is real.  You made it all up.  You and your enabler, the Internet.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I went home and fired up the computer.  The first article I saw put my odds of survival at 20%.  This was not even remotely true in my case.  But I didn’t know that.  For days, until I had the sense to talk to an actual person with actual knowledge of my situation, I was preparing my farewell address.

And here’s the worst thing: As long as I thought I was dying, that was my reality.  At the cellular level, your body doesn’t know whether you’re experiencing something in real life or in your imagination. That’s why psychologists tell us to avoid stress.  Our poor bodies think we’re actually under fire when really it’s just our boss on a tirade.

I’m not saying you should pull your covers over your head and hide.  At this point you can find a number of calm, credible sources for cancer information online. (The American Cancer Society is a great place to start, and if you want a glimpse into the future, you can hang out right here on Clear ID Monitoring.)  Concentrate on how to recover from your cancer, not on who’s to blame.  Beware of answers that sound too easy.  Be kind to your cells: even if you’re scared, assume that you’ll feel better.  Believe you’ll find your Well Again.

Odds are, we will get through cancer and beyond, even if we make mistakes along the way.  That’s how I’ve lived long enough to be one of those people you’ll find on the Internet.

—Anne Stockwell

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