Suddenly, as never before, my blogging is making a difference.
I've been interested in blogging for a few years now, and posted up lots of bits and pieces. I couldn't say that I've been a serious blogger however. I haven't posted often enough or on consistent topics enough to build a big following.
Up to now I've used my blog to share ideas and news as a bit of a dilettante. I've never seen it as a way of creating change. This assumption has been completely knocked sideways however with the reaction to my two most recent blogposts: Christmas in the Hospice and Atul Gawande on End Of Life. Suddenly blogging for me has surged into life. It's become something that is leading real people to take real action, in line with the hopeful title of my blog!
In those two posts the topics of my writing felt a little unsafe. It felt risky to write about the prospect of my own death, how I intend to prepare for it. How I intend to live as well for as long as possible with the people I love before and until my death happens.
I decided to be as open, honest and simple in my writing as I dared. I think people who read my blog appreciated this approach. I feel that this led to some major results:
First of all I noticed that the numbers of people reading the blogposts was unprecedented, people had started getting in touch, and sharing the posts on facebook and twitter. The stats for hits on my blogger account spiked dramatically. It's hard to express how the adrenaline can buzz at the sight of few dry numbers when you know these means hundreds of people are reading and sharing your writing!
I've since been privileged to be contacted by people living with cancer and their relatives who have got in touch to compare notes. I know from my own experience that there's nothing like making a connection with someone in a similar situation to make you feel less alone. I've had real inspiration from Ben Ashworth whose approach to his bowel cancer is no less than heroic, and by amazing coincidence lives just round the corner from me. I also appreciated the support I got from Vine House and from the Preston Gentle Approach to Cancer Group.
I was also contacted within hours by the public relations person from St Catherine's hospice who has shared the blogpost on St Catherine's own website, which makes me feel truly honoured. We've been talking about how to share some of the messages in my post more widely: I'd like people to understand that hospices help not just in the last days of a person's life, but help people in the way they were helping me, such as helping people find ways to manage their pain. (I also got loads of other kinds of support while I was there, including some handy advice about benefits), more than 50 percent of people using the hospice's support are for similar reasons to mine.
I'm also interested in understanding what makes the best human support 'person centred'. I think many people at St Catherines showed real person centredness in how they worked with me and other patients: they showed their own humanity and recognised ours too in hundreds of little ways. My previous job as a person centred planning coordinator was about discovering what those hundreds of little ways are and helping more people be able to use them in care settings, so I feel really passionate about this.
We're putting together a press release with more information about my visit to St Catherine's, and my whole cancer story to see whether this can help improve people's understanding of what hospices and palliative care are for and get across some of the other important messages about achieving the best kinds of human caring, which we hope will feature soon in the local press.
I was also delighted that local microblogger 'Blog Preston' was interested enough to share my post on that blog too!
I'm also delighted by the response from Helen Sanderson towards these posts. Helen is one of those unusual people who is incredibly skilled at taking ideas and making them into something real, that makes a real difference to real people. She has a genius for getting to the crux of what matters, of summarising and simplifying so that the tools and approaches she shares feel easy and natural for many people to use. The 'One Page Profile' is a brilliant example of this talent.
Helen also has a talent for bringing together wonderful creative passionate people with deep values and commitment. This means I'm absolutely blown away to see that my blog is part of what has inspired her to start working on a tool to gather together people's end of life wishes on one page. Already within a couple of days since I posted at least one hospice and several experts on end of life care have stepped forward via twitter to indicate that they want to be part of trialling such a tool and making it work: A simple tool that helps people facing the end of life gather together what really matters to them and ensures that this becomes part of their support.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if a tool like this becomes something that really helps many people express and share their end of life wishes, and then truly live well and die well?
I'm trying to grasp exactly why these two blogposts have precipitated such action and potential change. Partly it is because they are timely, on topics where people are already doing good thinking and have ideas they want to develop. I think however it is also because I am now delving into the well of my own lived experience. I'm writing about difficult times and difficult thoughts and trying not to shrink from expressing myself clearly and honestly, even if that's a little bit scary.
I intend to continue blogging in this vein, and I'll certainly try to do my part in helping St Catherine's, Helen Sanderson and others with their work around End Of Life. If my prognosis after my last scan is correct, then I would like the experience of the last months of my own life to be genuinely useful to other people.
I wonder whether I can do this by writing not as an expert, but as a human being.