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I’m Sick and in Pain

Michal Frischman

It wasn’t long ago that mention of the yene machlah was unheard of, a stigma to avoid at all costs. Today, thousands of people are sharing their pain online, along with photos and videos of their treatment, creating a veritable cheering squad as they fight for life. Does the public support help them heal? Or are some things best kept private?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

When 18-year-old EliBennettwas diagnosed with cancer in 2013, his mother insisted on a second opinion, his father consulted his rav, andEli told his doctor that he’d like his tumor with a side of French fries. Then he took to the Internet to rally his friends.

“Operation killTimmyis a go!”Bennettposted, referring to his tumor. “The day is April 8. #OperationKillTimmy #DownWithTimmy. Happy Passover, everyone. Thanks for all the endless support. Oh, andTimmyhates all of you (it’s a good thing).”

His friends, who had heard the news fromBennettdirectly, instantly replied with a show of love and tenderness. “Eli, you got this,” read one post. “You are surrounded by so many people who love and care about you. Be strong, remember that it’s okay to be afraid, but still be strong.”

Eliis just one of many battling a serious illness who has turned to social media to keep friends informed, share hopes and fears, and ultimately build a community of support. Not long ago, the mere mention of “yene machlah” was the ultimate stigma. Today, the Internet provides a platform for people around the world to share their struggles with serious illnesses.

ForEli, electronic communication has become a lifeline to reality outside the hospital.

“Treatment can be very isolating,” he says. “If there are weeks when I’m out of yeshivah for radiation or a surgery, I don’t want to get back and find out that everyone’s lives have carried on without me.”

But along with this newfound ability to connect, comes a price. Are we over-sharing? Are we aping the larger culture around us, where telling all in front of total strangers has become the new normal? Or has the public forum with its quick give-and-take and virtual relationships evolved into today’s concept of community?

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