Ellie Waters’ vlog looks like that of any other 14-year-old girl — she chats candidly to the camera in her messy bedroom, framed family photos on the shelves and a colorful line of nail polish within easy reach.
But she’s not like any other teenager: she has cancer and her YouTube channel is dedicated to charting her heart-breaking battle with the disease.
Ellie, from Northamptonshire, was diagnosed in 2015, a fact she first shared online in a YouTube debut titled “My Cancer Story.”
Her long brown locks have been stolen by chemo and a tube disappears up her nostril, but Waters doesn’t appear resentful or morose in the video, which has notched up nearly 300,000 views since it was uploaded in 2016.
With one in two people expected to be diagnosed with some form of cancer, talking openly about the disease is nothing new.
But now, you can also follow the unfiltered highs and lows of a cancer patient in real time at the click of a mouse, a development made possible by the rise of online vlogging.
Type “my cancer story” into YouTube and you’ll see she’s just one in a 13 million-long list of search results.
For Waters, who is now in remission, YouTube was a way of overcoming the isolation brought on by the illness.
“During the cancer treatment I couldn’t go out, meet my friends or go to school,” she tells Sun Online. “With very little energy, YouTube became an enjoyable and easy hobby for me to do.”
The positive reaction to her first clip spurred Waters on to keep charting her journey through her vlogs and her subsequent videos are full of frank insight and disarming humor.
All the ups and downs are laid bare on YouTube: from her mom accidentally spilling her “chemo-wee” filled bedpans (much to the nurse’s horror) to Waters’ difficulties readjusting to school life and coming to terms with infertility at 16.
Less than a year to live: Emily Hayward, 24
The trend has grown massively over the past few years, but sharing such an intimate and upsetting journey isn’t easy.
It took Emily Hayward, from Bromley, a year to pluck up the courage to talk about her terminal melanoma on camera.
The gym-honed 24-year-old’s clips were predominantly fitness videos in the past but nowadays she is more likely to film at Royal Marsden cancer hospital than her local gym.
The former personal trainer is now seven years into a cancer battle that began with a mole on her calf.
“From the calf, the cancer spread to my lymph nodes, then to my liver and lung, chest and up to the brain and down to my left hip, which is currently the biggest site,” she tells me, in the chatty, matter-of-fact tone you’ll hear on her videos.
This tone persists, even when she casually revealed on camera last month that she has been given less than a year to live.
For the 24-year-old, life has become a whirlwind of hospital visits and wedding planning.
Her vlogs seamlessly flit between shots of her and her fiancee, Aisha, in Nandos and the monotony of hospital waiting rooms.
She shares everything from her “scanxiety” when waiting for results to shots of her undertaking radiotherapy, swallowing the dizzying cocktail of medication which has been keeping her alive.
The fitness fanatic has more than 20,000 subscribers and finds strength in the positive reception her clips get.
“I get a buzz from uploading a video,” she says. “The reaction makes you feel great and motivates you to be well again the next day.”
“As the videos have gone on, I’ve become more and more like myself. It’s actually changed me as a person.”
“I always knew that I was going to die young from cancer but maybe not this young, so we’re still trying to maximize life.”
When watching her videos, it’s hard not be floored by her upbeat attitude and unwavering lust for life.
Every upload is flooded with comments from people finding solace in her story, and vowing to live their lives more like her:
“The other day a lady with cancer got in touch and said: ‘You’ve taught me how to die.’ She was in a state of depression and said I’d helped her cope with it better.”
Rare tumour: Tabs Headington, 18
With cyberbullying and the threat of an internet troll lurking behind every keyboard, it takes a brave soul to reveal what could potentially be their final months, weeks or days for the world to see.
But for Tabs Headington, 18, who was diagnosed with synovial sarcomas, an aggressive type of cancer, uploading a vlog about her condition felt like the natural thing to do.
Tabs, from the Isle of Wight, told us: “I have always been a sucker for social media, but obviously I didn’t expect it to turn out quite like this.”
Now in remission, Tabs vlogs about her vegan lifestyle and recovery, but she has been told by viewers to “get off her high horse” for promoting a plant-based diet — and not agreeing with everything her doctors told her.
In response to her critics, she says, she would be in a very different place if she hadn’t done her own research: “My tumour was very rare and it was quite big at the time I got it removed, and because of the rarity we all decided it would be best to do integrated medicine.”
Living on borrowed time: Daniel Thomas, 32
Comments haven’t always been kind to Daniel Thomas either.
The 32-year-old, based in Weston-Super-Mare, was diagnosed with sarcomatoid carcinoma, an aggressive and very rare cancer, in 2015.
When he’s not pulling silly faces and cracking jokes at the lens, the mental and physical pain of a terminal outlook is obvious.
“My original prognosis three years ago was four to six months,” he says. “Nowadays the general consensus is that I am living on borrowed time.”
“For me, day-to-day life is really hard, I have a lot of cancer in me and it is making me very weak and tired. I do miss being a normal person.”
Due to the sheer number of hospital appointments, his fatigue and the impact of mini-strokes, Thomas is unable to work and fills his days with maintaining his online presence.
He is one of very few men vlogging about life with terminal cancer and has spoken out about his struggles with mental illness and attempted suicide.
Thomas tells us: “People can be cruel, I have been told to die, that I am faking it and loads of other abuse.”
Thomas has been accused of vlogging to boost his finances, but insists he is not interested in money, “I have no need for it the state I am in,” he tells us.
Similarly, Hayward who is regularly showered in gifts, flowers and cards from well-wishers says she would never monetize her channel.
Headington, however, who is in remission sees a future career in social media: “I’d love to build a brand around myself and hopefully my social media will generate some money one day too, but nutrition is my goal for now.”
Thomas says maintaining followers is hard and involves interacting and posting regularly, which obviously becomes increasingly difficult as the cancer spreads and surgery or treatment take center stage.
But the former software developer isn’t just doing this for the likes.
He has set up a Go Fund Me page to fund research into his condition and a vlog to challenge the misconceptions and myths surrounding the disease.
And through YouTube Thomas has fostered a community he can confide in and who can share life-changing support and information about life with cancer.
Similarly, now 16-year-old Waters finds comfort in the same online community that can emerge out of a 10-minute vlog.
“It is the best feeling when I get messages from fellow cancer fighters telling me they have benefitted from my videos”, she says.
“It makes me feel as if I got cancer for a reason – so that I could help others.”
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