Recently I was in a cafe deliberating between having a single blend pour over or a flat white (if I’m going to be a straight white London cliche, I’m damn well going to put the time in) when I saw a woman using FaceTime. Nothing unusual about that you might say, and you’d be right, as every self respecting indie coffee shop in the capital must by law have at least two people using MacBooks at any given time. What was different is that she was using it to British Sign Language to chat to a friend. No one in the cafe took a blind bit of notice. This comparatively new technology (Apple launched it in 2010) was now so ubiquitous it’s uses get socially interesting.
This is what interests me. How can ubiquitous technology be helpful for people with cancer? I’m not going to write about the medical uses of tech, although there are great step forwards in the use of stem cells, immunotherapy and radiotherapy. No I’m looking at how everyday tech can make daily life for cancer patients a little bit easier.
The first thing that has changed since I was ill the first time around in 1998 is the ability to connect to other people going through similar experiences. Apart from the other patients on the ward at the QE in Birmingham I didn’t know anyone with Testicular Cancer. Looking online (Hello Alta Vista!) only brought up references to Lance Armstrong, and less said about that bastard the better. I felt completely alone in my experience. This time around with Instagram and Twitter being so popular you can find folk very quickly who also have the same illness or have used the same drugs as you.
The ubiquity of mobile cameras with good enough lens and storage, means that anyone can make videos and share them. I always wondered when seeing women with cancer on the Barts day ward using the cooling hair cap, how it actually worked. Well here’s Rachel Bland with a handy guide. Yes you can read an official text on it, but nothing beats seeing a person lead you through it step by step.
Obviously if you’re reading this you know about blogging. That was something very much in its infancy in the 90’s but now there are many tools online to make it really easy to share your thoughts and experiences. I decided to set this blog up after reading John Underwood’s blog (his new food blog, with the biggest twist imaginable is here).
Even the evils of Facebook and Twitter have come in to their own this time around. I know the sites are the reason democracy is dying and it lead to Brexit and Trump,but it also is a vital link to the outside world. When I was holed up in Barts for months at a time connecting to family and friends was the only thing that kept me relatively sane. Also I’ve made new friends through it which has been a real joy. Your social life tends to take a dive when you have a critical illness and so meeting new people online has been lovely. Often it can be the only social interaction which doesn’t involve medical staff for days on end. Also with social media being global, you can be up at 3 o’bloody clock in the morning suffering the worst insomnia (next week’s blog folks) and able to chat to people in Melbourne, Washington or LA. Don’t tell me it’s not the same as meeting people offline. Some online pals know far more about my life than people I know face-to-face. (That said, it’s a delight to meet people you’ve been chatting to online, offline you already have a mine of stories to talk about).
Technology is also helping me start to exercise again. I’m getting used to my FitBit now, and it’s a like a nagging but annoyingly correct friend that reminds me to be active and get out of the house everyday and go for a walk. Tech is even infiltrating one of my great loves, cycling. I went to the London Bike Show at the ExCeL centre in east London last Friday and saw lots of manufacturers that were promoting their e-bikes. Bikes with electronic motors attached can help enormously with the barrier of getting active again. Particularly if you live in a hilly or challenging environment, or just don’t have the energy. There were bikes for all occasions on display, from road racers,mountain bikes and even humble shoppers. I had a go on a pre-production electronic Brompton. It looks like a normal folding Brompton but has a power pack on the front which helps you by giving you a boost while pedaling. The only thing that is a downside is the cost. It’s usually double that of a normal bike. The Brompton I tried will retail in the summer at 2500 pounds. For someone on PiP and ESA that’s way beyond what I could afford.
Obviously there are many downsides to technology (I’ve taken the Stephen King advice and carry a book everywhere in my manbag to try and not be so addicted to my phone), but used with a bit of thought, tech can be a lifeline to those in an isolating, scary and depressing situation.
This week I’ve been...Watching Marcella, A ridiculous London based cop drama starring my longest ongoing crush Anna Freil….Reading The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene, about his travels in Mexico in the spring of 1938...Listening to Adam Buxton’s You’re doing it wrong on Radio 4, little 15 minute gems of radio, this week on the world of work.
NEXT WEEK! Sleep. Do we need it? and what happens when it goes desperately wrong.