By Collin Denton
My Tam Nguyen (BA, ’06) and Rose Egge (MCDM, ’11) were shining stars beating on the door of success when they were diagnosed with cancer. They both were in their early to mid-twenties and led healthy and active lifestyles. Neither thought of themselves as being at risk for cancer. Fortunately, they both beat the odds, finding solace in one another’s experiences and sharing their own inspirational stories through blogging and social media.
Help in the form of social media
On the surface, My Tam Nguyen is a fun-loving independent woman who enjoys reading, photography, and spending time with her family. She immigrated to Seattle from Vietnam when she was eight years old and grabbed life by the horns. She is currently working in community relations for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, and volunteers with multiple community organizations. You would never in million years guess that this 28 year old, so full of life, had just beaten cancer.
In May 2011, Tam was in Santa Barbara at the tail end of a vacation when her doctor called to inform her she had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Infused Large B-Cell Lymphoma. “If there was a good way to hear that you have cancer that would have been it.”
Two weeks after the diagnosis she was in chemotherapy. She admits that she did not know the extent of treatment she was about to undergo in the coming weeks but she always took things in stride and tried to remain optimistic. “My personal strategy was to face whatever’s in front of me and not worry what’s next, and just deal with the moment,” she said.
She hadn’t considered blogging as a way to cope with her ordeal. The idea didn’t come to her until one of her mentors suggested that she ask for help. Nguyen said she had to take a step back and ask herself, “What does help look like for me?”
Help for her came in the form of a support team. After being influenced by her close friend, Naomi Ishisaka, she decided to start a blog and use other forms of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to organize a team and keep them informed on her daily status. “My mentor said to accept help, and the blog was a way of me kind of putting it out there that I’m open and welcome to have help through this process.”
Being whipped into a frenzied world filled with doctor’s appointments, tests, and treatment schedules, the blog was a great way to update her team without being overwhelmed with phone calls and text messages. With treatments being incredibly physically draining and time consuming, she used social media as a tool to communicate with people on her own time and on her own terms.
Nguyen documented treatment processes through her blog, using photographs to bring “a deeper, more human perspective to the experience.” It allowed her to document what she was going through on a more personal level than simply posting medical data to her Facebook page. It also allowed her followers to empathize with the amount of physical and mental pain coursing through her. “I was hoping that people could learn from my experience without having to go through it themselves.”
Nguyen’s blog was a huge success in terms of allowing those she loved to be able to help in ways that she never thought possible. “I have the best friends ever!” she exclaimed. They kept things light and never missed the chance to crack a good joke. Little things like that made the ordeal easier to endure, she says. Her blog and social media followers also showed their support by doing everything from bringing her food, to giving her rides to and from the hospital.
Nguyen underwent eight total rounds of chemotherapy, a month and a half of daily radiation treatment, a stem cell harvest, and a total of four cancer related surgeries before she was finally declared cancer free. “Every day is a beautiful blessing to me.”
Bringing it to light
Rose Egge, born and raised in Seattle, always had a passion for writing. She was also very physically active, taking every opportunity she could to engage in dancing, yoga, and running. In 2008 she graduated from Seattle University with a BA in Journalism and continued her education in the Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) program in 2009. Directly after graduating, Egge landed a job with Seattle’s KOMO News organization, where she was a developer of web content.
At the age of 25, she started experiencing severe back pains off and on for six months. After much deliberation amongst her doctors, they decided to conduct an MRI. Two days later, her doctor broke the news that they had found a tumor on her spine. She soon learned it was B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, better known as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an extremely rare form of cancer for someone her age.
The results came as a shock. “I had been healthy my whole life growing up so you just don’t think anything really serious will ever be wrong with you,” she said. However, Egge said she had a mysterious inkling that the results were going to be positive before she was diagnosed. When the doctors read her results, “my parents started sobbing right away but I actually I think I already, in some weird way, knew and had accepted it.”
Egge faced her cancer head on. Within mere hours of her diagnosis she decided that she was going to go public with the news and start a blog to document her experience. “If I didn’t start talking about it and be open about it, I was going to go insane.”
Egge had a golden platform in the form of KOMO News to make her battle public and shed light on an otherwise sensitive and stigmatic subject. KOMO fully supported her decision, and even took it one step further by publishing her blog on their website.
Having such a large audience, Egge gained connections to people that would have otherwise been impossible. “I was connected to this vast network of survivors… there was nothing that came close to being as comforting as talking to other survivors,” she said.
She admits there were times when she felt like she was the only young person going through cancer-related issues. She felt isolated, sometimes spending days confined to a bed because of the side effects from chemotherapy. But because of the support coming her blog’s readers and reading other blogs, she was able to break out of those slumps. “I was lucky that I had My Tam and other people that became my friends that were going through treatment, because there aren’t that many of us.”
Egge’s blog was a tool for her that allowed her to overcome challenges and gain support from complete strangers in ways she never thought possible. “A big part of why I believe that I’m here today is because people that don’t even know me, people I have never met, or people that I just barely knew, that were just Facebook friends, cared. They cared about whether I survived or not.” She recognizes her friends, doctors, family, and even her blog as the reasons she’s alive today. “It’s a really powerful thing and it saved me.”
Friends in the lowest of places
After hearing about each other’s similar cancer stories through the grapevine, Nguyen and Egge connected through Facebook. Once the connection was made, they both followed each other’s blogs and offered their support to one another wherever possible.
“Because we were going through the exact same rounds of chemo that day I just walked into her room and gave her pizza,” Ngyuen reflected. The two have stayed in touch since that day. “We had very similar experiences with coping and being very young.” Nguyen continues, “We rooted each other on and that connection was made because of social media.”
Both women are in remission and are back doing the things they love. Nguyen is currently working on Seattle’s highly publicized Waterfront Project and Egge has started her own non-profit organization, Thrive Through Cancer! Both maintain that because of cancer they are stronger and they want to use their experience to connect and help others in need.