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The Dark Side of Cancer and Social Media

If you're using your 'cancer following' to gain fame or profit for yourself, I ask you to reconsider.
PUBLISHED August 15, 2018
Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email

While I use social media to raise testicular cancer awareness, other people use it as a way to showcase their battle, which can also inadvertently spark awareness. It's great to see other fighters pass milestones and then hit the finish line of being cancer free.

What concerns me is seeing how some accounts misuse the following they've gathered after the completion of (or sometimes during) their journey.

If your cancer journey has run its course, and you're now going to rebrand as a lifestyle, fitness or a different type of account, good for you. Commit to that. Don't pull out "the cancer card" when engagement goes down. It's jarring, and somewhat disrespectful, to go from selling beach chairs to "Hey, I had cancer" back to promoting an online retailer.

It's also OK to blend the two. On occasion, I have been known to share a non-testicular cancer-related post, but I try to keep those on my stories, where they won't be there forever. My rule of thumb is that of my last ten posts, at least eight of them should be related directly to testicular cancer. Otherwise, I don't feel like I am running an awareness account at all.

I also totally understand that facing cancer is very expensive and you need to pay those bills somehow. I do freelance writing to support my testicular cancer awareness efforts. I don't fault anyone for trying to make ends meet.

What I won't ever do is use my message or journey to sell an unrelated product. I won't post about reaching two years post chemo and you can use the discount code UNIBALLER for 10 percent off a moving truck rental. I won't celebrate testicular cancer awareness month by offering free shipping on protein powder.

Profiting off of cancer feels cheap, wrong and attention grabbing. Use your audience for good. Spread a message of early detection, risk factors and symptoms. Share how to do self-exams or when to go for regularly scheduled check-ups.

If you absolutely need to use your social media following to make money, be sure that you're not alienating the people who began following you from the start. Consider donating some of the profits you make back (after paying your medical bills) to hospitals or organizations that support your cancer type.

As a consumer of social media, you can help by holding people who are being "cancerpreneuers" accountable. Leave them comments asking about more information about their cancer type or what they intend to do with the money. Unfollow them if they don't seem on the right side of morality.

I don't want this to come off as trying to attack anyone who uses their diagnosis to advance themselves in the world, without giving back to the cancer community or promote early detection, but it's hard not to.
To put it quite bluntly – they got this "fame" from having cancer, the least they can do is try to prevent someone else from having to go through the same thing.


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