Researching How to Promote the “Good” and Reduce the “Bad” with Cancer Support on Social Media

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My name is Allison Lazard. With my cancer communication research, I focus on ways to improve the design of health messages and online resources for cancer prevention and support. I didn’t start my career thinking I would be a researcher. I went to school to be a commercial photographer (undergrad) and then a multimedia designer (master’s). It wasn’t until I was out there working as a multimedia designer that I got the itch for research. I wanted to do more and know more about how design could improve health communication and help people. So, I went to get a PhD. Now I have the opportunity to do research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and with partners all over the country.  

My life and career changed when I attended CancerCon 2017 in Denver, Colorado. My friend, on the Stupid Cancer Board at the time, invited me to come and hear firsthand about the communication needs of the awesome AYAs in this Stupid Cancer community. While I wasn’t shocked to learn how AYAs are often overlooked and underserved by our healthcare system, I was forever changed after hearing about unique social and emotional needs that could be helped, in part, by improving support and information resources online. I heard from many about what is working and what isn’t working with online peer-to-peer support. I also saw ways I could potentially help.

After my first CancerCon, I kept asking questions. You all in the Stupid Cancer community, and beyond, kept giving more and more answers. Along with my team, I have learned that piecing together peer support through all the socials can work, but gosh, it really *is* work. We have learned about the many good things that come from peer support on social media; being able to share stories or just read others’ experience for hope or validation, getting real answers to one’s uncertainty about treatment, and simply connecting as you navigate life issues, like relationships and finances, with people who really get it. There are downsides too. Not everything that is shared is helpful and some of what is on social media can be downright harmful. 

Through my research, I continue to listen to those in the AYA community who are willing to share and try to amplify their voices. I build evidence for how we can share more of the “good” cancer support with the AYA cancer community on social media. I also work toward evidence-based policies that will help reduce the “bad” that is shared so easily. Each year, I collaborate with researchers in oncology, public health, psychology, and beyond to design new interventions and transform those we already know are effective in other populations to make online cancer support that much more relevant and helpful for AYAs. 

By: Allison Lazard