Cancer survivor who battled mental health alongside diagnosis creates app to help others with illness

A man who faced his own mortality after being diagnosed with cancer has created an app to help others going through similar experiences.

Fabian Bolin was just 28 when he was told he had leukaemia in 2015, enduring 900 days of intensive chemotherapy.

Left grappling with the reality that he had a 60% chance of surviving, he resigned himself to thinking that life was over.

Yet in a bid to exorcise his demons, Fabian decided to blog about his experience and, through doing this, realised the positive effects that storytelling had on his own mental health. It was this realisation that led him to create his War On Cancer app, designed specifically for those people who are suffering from cancer.

The app allows people to communicate with each other, share experiences and discuss cancer in a safe space – especially as they find themselves isolated from the rest of society or facing indefinite halts on treatment as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Fabian told us how hearing the news of the diagnosis went onto profoundly affect his world – for the better.

Fabian said: “I remember it clearly. There was a short moment of time, in between when the doctor said the infamous ‘you have cancer’ line and before he could say anything else. At that specific moment, I was certain I was going to die.

“Everything I knew about cancer spelled death, and especially blood cancer. There were no feelings of fear, anger, or sadness. Rather, I felt a big relief and a peaceful experience.

“It was like a voice told me, ‘you don’t have to prove yourself anymore, just sit back and relax’. I’ve come back to that moment several times, and I know that I felt that way because I wasn’t happy with the life I was living at the time of my diagnosis. Hence, on a subconscious level, I think embraced the idea of dying.”

Although everyone’s journey through cancer is unique, Fabian believes it is safe to say that being diagnosed, and the subsequent treatment and aftermath, inflicts trauma.

Research suggests that 22% of cancer patients develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and 25% of patients develop clinical depression. However, the healthcare system in most cases only treat the cancer, and often do not have the resources to deal with the trauma, PTSD and depression that can sometimes be caused by treatment.

Fabian explained: “If there was one thing that really saved my mental health during my years of going through cancer, it was the act of writing and sharing my story.

“The blog became my saviour from a mental health point of view, and it made me understand the power of stories for three main reasons.

“Firstly, I found sharing therapeutic, as it was a way for me to process my mental challenges in real-time.

“Secondly, sharing helped me to normalise the situation around me, so that my friends and family understood how they could best support me.

“They realised that what I needed wasn’t to be treated like a victim, but rather as Fabian, currently undergoing cancer treatment.

“Thirdly, the notion that sharing my story was helping others had a profoundly positive impact on my mental health. The blog peaked at around 200,000 monthly readers and I can honestly say that I have never in my life felt a bigger sense of purpose and meaning than I did then, and I have never felt happier.

“I even began to develop a form of gratefulness towards being diagnosed.”

He continued: “By sharing my story, I applied several coping mechanisms at the same time, such as expressive writing, self-monitoring, and having a strong social support network. The whole point of the app is to boost our members’ mental health, meaning we study the trauma coping-mechanisms closely when developing the platform.”

While Fabian credits his experience with changing his life, he still believes there is a lot of room for education and that understanding the illness can make it less taboo.

He said: “The more we talk about cancer and other illnesses, the more we help to normalise it which will ultimately increase the mental health of those affected.

“Normalisation is especially important in terms of making sure that people understand cancer is something that many people are living with or living through.

“It is something which becomes a part of cancer patients’ lives and as such tip-toeing around the topic or avoiding it can be harmful and isolating for people going through cancer, as it may be a part of their day-to-day life for years.

“Cancer is a life experience which is difficult, harrowing and entirely unique. Many people that are going or have gone through it, myself included, may find it difficult to explain what they’re going through to others or to find people who really ‘get’ the journey that cancer takes you on and the ways in which it changes your perspective on life.

“This also applies to the loved ones of cancer patients, who will also be going through emotions and challenges that many of their peers and close friends will not.

“Having a wider understanding of this amongst non-cancer patients would be extremely helpful. Knowing that a loved one who is undergoing cancer treatment might be finding it hard to conceptualise what they’re going through, or that they may be going through large amounts of emotional turmoil and change, could help people who are not going through cancer to build a better support network.”

Fabian added that his personal experience is often referred to as post-traumatic growth, whereby a positive change develops through a stressful or frightening event.

For more info, click here: Fabian Bolin.