For and about Cancer Survivors in Second Life, and for anyone who has been touched by cancer

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama in Ghana ... and Second Life

I don't often stray outside the remit of this blog, which I see as being to focus on information for and about cancer survivors in Second Life. But Saturday was exceptional.

I found myself sitting with avatar friends from all over the globe in Second Life, joined via a chatbridge to participants in Metaplace, watching President Obama speaking live to the people of Ghana. Wiping away a tear as he reminded Africans and people all around the world that: 'Africa's future is up to Africans ... I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world. After all, I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family's'.

Second Life is such a powerful immersive environment, that I felt as if I was watching from inside the parliament building in Accra, surrounded by friends.

As one of the people watching in Second Life said, politics aside, it is a tall order addressing Africa's social, and economic problems. There was not much new in the content of the President's speech, rather, it was the fact that he was there, affirming his own and America's commitment to help Africa to change and telling them 'yes you can'.

Which brings me back to the relevance of blogging about this event here. The President confirmed America's commitment to help Africa to carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, to invest in public health systems that promote wellness and the health of mothers and children, through a comprehensive, global, health strategy.

The speech was followed by a panel discussion in Second Life moderated by Tori Annenburg. KentonKeith Kitalpha (Ambassador Keith Kenton), DNA Dumouriez (African musician Derrick Ashtong), and Timothy Bergson (African Studies professor, Timothy Burke) engaged in discussion with Second Life and Metaplace participants. I wasn't able to stay for long enough unfortunately to report on what sounded from the outset a very interesting discussion.

What a privilege is was to be watching this moment in a global community. Congratulations to the Vesuvius team and to others who were involved in making this event work.

The full transcript is on the White House website:

See my Flickr stream at:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Take a tour ... American Cancer Society in Second Life

The official promotional video by MarkTwain White for the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life in Second Life" campaign, which first screened at SL6B.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Virtual support for cancer survivors - a panel discussion at SL6B

On Sunday, June 25 I moderated a panel discussion at SL6B at the American Cancer Society's exhibit 'The American Cancer Society in the Virtual World'. Five cancer survivors took part in this discussion where they described their experiences and how they felt about peer support in Second Life.

One of the questions that came up was, how does virtual support compare with real life support. The speakers made some important points, emphasizing the discoverability and accessibility of the SL support group and the low threshold for joining it.

Five different perspectives, from survivors in the USA, Canada, and Brazil, with different types of cancer, but with several common themes.

From left to right: Hilde, Les, Poppy (standing), Dwen, Tathi and Cinders

Hilde Hullabaloo, a thyroid cancer survivor in Canada, says she was never offered any support in real life. 'My doctors appeared to have no idea there is support out there for thyroid cancer patients, or didn't judge me in need of it. I was explicitly told to stay off the internet when it comes to thyroid cancer, because it would scare me.

'I don't drive and live in a very car-dependent area; there was no way I would have made it to a “real world” support group meeting, particularly not while I was tired and in pain. In the throes of treatment, I felt ashamed, depressed, and terrified; I found it difficult to express those feelings to anyone in the real world.

'The threshold for entering into SL's support group, while higher in terms of technology and bandwidth, was emotionally and physically lower.'

Les Karsin, a prostate cancer survivor in the USA, pointed out that one important difference between RL and SL support groups was accessibility. 'In SL it is much easier to find a group and easier to attend meetings than it would be for me in RL. All I had to do was search groups for the word "cancer," and the ACS survivors' group was right there. To attend meetings, all I have to do is sit down at my computer, log in, and TP to the meeting location.'

Les also prefers the relative anonymity provided by SL. '... [it] made it feel safer for me to attend the first few meetings. I am actually quite a shy person, and it would have been much harder for me to walk into a room full of people in RL for the first time and tell my story. On the other hand, now that I have experienced the benefits of a support group in SL, perhaps I will be more likely to seek out a group in RL at some point in the future.'

He has found e-mail based support groups helpful, but points out that '... meeting with a group in SL, in a virtual environment where I can see other people's avatars seated around me and interact with them in real-time, gives me a much stronger sense of presence and connection, I think that SL provides many of the same benefits as meeting with a group in RL, but reduces some of the barriers that make it hard for a person like me to take that first step of joining a group. Another advantage of SL is that I get to meet and talk with people from all over the world, not just my local area. That gives me a sense that I am part of a much larger, global community of people who are fighting this disease.'

Dwen Dooley agrees. 'Anonymity, via an avatar that has ... or doesn't have to have ... a connection to your real name, can give you courage. You can talk about "private" matters in SL where you might feel there was a taboo about talking about it in "Real Life".

'Access can be another issue. SL offers desk or lap-top access to support without concern for travel, ramps, stairs, hills, cars, buses, trains ... the outdoors ... those limited by their RL bodies are mostly not as constrained by SL.

'In SL you can't hold a real hand, cry on a real shoulder, or get a "real" hug. [But] those who immerse themselves in SL are used to its limitations and accept them because they've seen such amazing benefits despite those limitations.'

Tathi Pessoa, a cancer survivor from Brazil, says: 'I’ve never been to a RL support group, its not usual in Brazil . I’m not aware of groups outside the big cancer hospitals and when I have to go to a cancer center usually I have to stay face to face with people in all kinds of state of cancer (normally very advanced ). It scares me a lot so I avoid this kind of places. SL can provide beautiful places and environments ... different from the scary one.'

Cinders Vale is a six-year breast cancer survivor in the USA. She had to give up her car several years ago and finds getting to real life support meetings, especially in the winter, is a problem.

She says: 'I think going to virtual meetings/chats for many is easier. It doesn't matter how bad you look or feel. You are still surrounded by those who have been where you are, and who understand. You can feel the support and caring. Survivors or caregivers who need to talk at any time of the day or night have access to group members. They can just open up the group IM window and see who answers them. Our virtual support system works just as well as any RL version. It does fulfil a need for many out there.'

Many thanks to all the participants for sharing their perspectives.

Milestone year for Relay For Life of Second Life

In this milestone year for Relay for Life of Second Life, the American Cancer Society's real world head office in Atlanta, GA has issued a statement recognizing the passion and dedication of survivors and volunteers in Second Life.

'Celebrating its fifth year in the virtual world, the 2009 American Cancer Society Relay For Life® of Second Life is set for July 18-19 as avatars representing cancer survivors, caregivers, their families and the millions of passionate supporters gather virtually to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and join the American Cancer Society in fighting for every birthday, threatened by every cancer in every community.

'This year’s virtual world event is expected to attract in excess of 3,000 participants as more than 125 teams unite toward reaching a fundraising goal of $250,000. In 2008, Relay For Life of Second Life raised $215,000 – surpassing its total for the previous three years, combined. Simultaneously, the real-world American Cancer Society Relay For Life is in the midst of its 25th birthday year, as the world’s most successful nonprofit fundraising special event brings together more than 3.5 million people across the United States and 20 other countries to raise funds to embolden the American Cancer Society’s fight for every birthday, threatened by every cancer in every community.

'The 2009 Relay For Life of Second Life celebrates “One World…One Hope,” thematic of the Society’s global mission and of the scope of Relay participation in its real and virtual world environments.

'During this year’s registration rally in February, 40 teams pledged their support for the event and signaled the largest, single-day team registration in Relay For Life of Second Life history.'

Scott P. Bennett, American Cancer Society national vice-president, marketing, said:

“The engagement of these committed, virtual world volunteers continues to grow each year and demonstrates the enormous impact they have within the Second Life community and with encouraging others to join the American Cancer Society’s mission to help save lives and create a world with more birthdays.” He continued: “Virtual world Relay participants, just like those in the real world, are passionate about their involvement, and they powerfully reflect Relay’s worldwide reach.”

For more information about Relay for Life of Second Life, go to:

For information about the American Cancer Society in real life go to: