I have never had breast cancer, and I don’t write about breast cancer (except rarely). But I noticed soon after launching my Heart Sisters blog that a surprising number of women with breast cancer were reading, subscribing and responding to my blog articles on women’s heart disease. One of my favourites in this group was author and breast cancer activist Nancy Stordahl, who blogs at Nancy’s Point. We’ve never met in person, but Nancy and I have agreed over the years that the traumatic experience of facing a catastrophic diagnosis is shared by many, no matter what that medical condition may be.
So when Nancy invited me to participate in her 2021 Summer Blogging Challenge, I was pleased to oblige one of my favourite bloggers by answering the six questions that she asked about my blog: . .
1. Who are you? Tell us your genre, how long you’ve been at it, who or what inspires you or whatever you want us to know.
“I’m Carolyn Thomas from Victoria, here on the beautiful west coast of Canada, where I live in Grandbaby Heaven – about a five-minute walk from my darling 6-year old granddaughter Everly Rose, and a 20-minute walk from the adorably happy 4-month old Baby Zack.
“I blog about women and heart disease – our #`1 health threat. I started my blog Heart Sisters in 2009, about a year after being misdiagnosed with acid reflux in the middle of my own ‘widow maker heart attack’. My former public relations colleagues tease me that this is simply what happens when a PR person has a heart attack: we just keep writing and speaking and looking stuff up, because that’s all we know how to do!
2. What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it?
“COVID. COVID. COVID. . . . Last March, almost overnight, everything was being cancelled as the pandemic grew – from school to dental appointments to the National Hockey League’s scheduled season (a serious issue here in Canada!) I couldn’t hug my granddaughter for two months (and not much else matters when that happens). My blogging roadblock hit overnight, too. My passion for writing about women and heart disease seemed to evaporate. Week after week, I was simply unable to write anything except articles on COVID-19.
“And then one day, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in the U.S., and I basically stopped writing abut COVID-19. Just. Like. That. It took a while, but I’ve gradually been able to drift back to writing about heart stuff. I did revisit COVID in this one-year pandemic anniversary post, “My Year of Living COVIDly.” I’m beginning to view this pandemic as a chronic illness, much like my cardiac diagnoses: always out there and not going anywhere.”
3. What’s something you accomplished with your blog that you’re proud of?
“I write for other women like me living with heart disease, and I’m also pleased to see that a growing number of physicians, nurses, paramedics, cardiac researchers and other healthcare professionals now read, share and reply to what I’m writing about, too. So far, this site has almost 900 articles, attracting over 18.8 million views from 190 countries!
“But something I’m most proud of overall is the comprehensive 8,000-word, patient-friendly, jargon-free Heart Sisters glossary that I’ve created over the years – a translation of confusing medical terms, abbreviations and acronyms that you’ll hear tossed casually at you around the cardiac ward – almost as if they think you’ve been to medical school.”
4. What are some of your best blogging tips?
- Grammar and spelling count. Otherwise, it looks like you don’t care.
- Factual accuracy counts even more.
- Write about what you wish you’d been able to find when you first needed it.
5. How do you handle negative feedback or comments?
“I love my Heart Sisters reader comments! The notable – yet rare – exceptions have happened when I dared to express an opinion that was considered political. My ‘regular’ readers often write to me as if they know me better than they actually do – like one very disappointed reader who reminded me (before threatening to quit subscribing if I didn’t change my ways):
“Carolyn, I don’t follow your site for your political opinions.”
Or another who bluntly scolded me:
“Carolyn, who cares what YOU think?”
“(I laughed right out loud at that one. Why on earth would anybody subscribe to a blog if they did not care what that blogger thinks?)
“The most puzzling example of negative feedback was from a New Jersey Emergency physician, Dr. Rick Pescatore, who really did NOT like a quote I’d used from Harvard cardiac researcher Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas. Instead of attacking a Harvard researcher, however, it’s far easier to attack the lowly heart patient/blogger who has quoted her research findings. Over the course of one morning – must have been a slow day in his ER – he sent several messages to me via Twitter attacking my “fear mongering” and calling me, among other names, myopic, misleading, unhelpful, inaccurate, unfair, uninformed. I responded to each message, politely suggesting that he should contact Dr. Kreatsoulas directly if he objected to the word-for-word direct quote I’d used. My eventual conclusion: he does not realize that Twitter is public?”
6. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written RECENTLY (since last year’s challenge perhaps) that you want more people to read.
“Last September, I read an American Heart Association national survey report that blew the top of my head off. I simply could not comprehend what I was reading. Here’s what I wrote in a Heart Sisters blog post in response to that shocking report: “Women’s Heart Disease: an Awareness Campaign Fail”:
“The results were astonishing. They suggested that women not only had a low awareness of even the most basic facts about heart disease – the #1 killer of women worldwide – but awareness levels were significantly lower than an awareness survey 10 years earlier. Women were more likely in 2019 than a decade ago, for example, to mistakenly believe breast cancer is their leading cause of death. (It’s not, by the way, heart disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined). And barely half of women surveyed knew that chest pain is a symptom of heart attack!
“A decade of lost ground” is how the official commentary from the American Heart Association bluntly described their survey’s stunningly awful results.”
“For me personally – a woman who has devoted much of the past 13 years trying to raising women’s awareness of our #1 killer – it was a particularly painful blow. I had to somehow come to terms with this reality: whatever I’d been doing to help raise awareness about women’s heart disease – it’s not working.
“I felt so utterly demoralized by the results of this survey that I wondered if I should even continue to write this blog. Providing more and more information to women who read my posts is not only an apparently ineffective use of my time, but as researchers at the University of Florida’s Center for Public Interest Communications wrote in their own report called “Stop Raising Awareness Already,” published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:
“Because abundant research shows that people who are simply given more information are unlikely to change their beliefs or behavior, it’s time for activists and organizations seeking to drive change in the public interest to move beyond just raising awareness.”
“Similarly, offering more and more information (as our physicians, nurses and public health officials keep doing about the COVID-19 pandemic) is apparently NOT the way to “change beliefs or behaviors.”
“But when the post-survey sting began to fade, I realized that I’d known this intuitively for a long time. Every time I start a blog post with a story (my own or others’) to lead into the main point I want to cover (as I did at the top of this page), I’m letting the patient narrative carry the informational load.”
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: You might be interested in the story of how this blog became a book published by Johns Hopkins University Press. It’s called “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can save 20% off the book’s cover price if you order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN). Or ask for it at your local library, your favourite independent bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon.
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Q: What do YOU look for in the blogs that you enjoy reading?
Blog article themes I stole from Nancy Stordahl: