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How to start a cancer blog

by Maggie Jones
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Among my many blessings from cancer are the incredible friendships I’ve made since I started sharing my journey.

When I was first diagnosed, my immediate response was to start researching everything I could. Reading stories from others who continued to thrive years after diagnosis helped me believe that I could do the same.

The more stories of hope floating around, the more people who are inspired to find their own hope. The more tips and tools and personal experiences being shared, the more likely people are to find something that will work for them.

A few folks have asked me how they can share their stories in the same way I have and I can’t imagine a more beautiful gift.

Reasons to blog about your cancer journey

  • Keep friends and family updated
  • Give hope to others
  • Share learnings with others
  • Find your online community
  • Start a business like a food blog, online store, podcast, book
  • Offer a service like coaching

What kind of blog to start

There are a lot of options depending on your goals and the level of effort you’re looking to put into the project. I review the free options first but feel free to jump to the step-by-step if you know you want a full-featured blog to build a community, your brand, or an online business.

Free blog options

If your goal is simply to keep friends and family updated on your health and treatment, there are several free options out there, some tailored specifically for cancer survivors. The options I’m familiar with are listed below in order from least to most creative control. Keep in mind that the more control you have over the site, the more complicated it generally is to set up and maintain. Still, none of the options described here are difficult even if you are a relative internet novice.

Free blogs for cancer survivors:
Good choice to keep loved ones up-to-date.

CaringBridge is a non-profit where where those with cancer can share messages with their private network and where readers can leave messages of support. It’s a lovely way to keep everyone updated without having to write a thousand individual emails or field multiple phone calls. A few observations:

  • Very easy set up.
  • You’ll get a semi-custom URL like “https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/YOURUSERNAMEHERE”
  • There’s a nice feature where your followers receive an email every time you post.
  • Your followers must register for a CaringBridge account to see your posts.
  • No ability to customize look and feel or features.
  • The site is funded by donations and supporters are asked for a donation each time they read or reply to a post.

BlogforaCure is another non-profit that offers a free message hub for those with cancer. In addition to sharing messages with either a private network or publicly, Blog for a Cure is oriented around building a network with other cancer survivors to provide mutual support.

  • Easy set up if a little less polished than CaringBridge.
  • You’ll get a semi-custom URL like https://YOURUSERNAMEHERE.blogforacure.com/weblog
  • Readers can see your posts without logging in but have the option of creating an account to be notified of posts.
  • No ability to customize look and feel or features.
  • The site is also funded by donations but a little less in-your-face.

Other free blogging platforms
Good choice for keeping loved ones up-to-date, sharing your story to give hope to others, or sharing your experience and learnings.

Blogger is a free tool offered by Google. It’s a little more of a traditional blogging platform than the messaging tools above. You’ve probably seen plenty of blogger blogs in your pre-cancer days.

  • Easy set up – especially if you have a Google account already
  • You’ll get a semi-custom URL like https://YOURUSERNAMEHERE.blogspot.com
  • Posts are available to the public and the public can comment based on your preferences.
  • You can control the color scheme, header images, and navigation as well as a few layout choices but have very limited design or ad control.

WordPress.COM is a free tool that is not to be confused with WordPress.ORG. Both use the WordPress content management system (CMS) but if you create a .COM site you still don’t have full control over your site. You do get:

  • Pretty easy set-up.
  • A semi-custom URL like http://YOURUSERNAMEHERE.wordpress.com
  • Posts are available to the public and the public can comment based on your preferences.
  • More options for “themes” or designs to apply to your blog and more flexibility on layout.
  • You won’t have full design control or the ability to run ads.

Any of these would be a great choice if you’re looking to replace an email-style update with something more public-facing. Most likely you’re here because you want to fully own your story and brand.

How to start a cancer blog (Step-by-Step)

This options is best if your goals are bigger and you’re looking to

  • build a community around our shared experience
  • build a brand
  • monetize through ads
  • sell a product, podcast, book, etc

There are an infinite number of ways to do this but the only one worth considering, in my opinion, is a self-hosted WordPress blog. Decades ago I worked as a programmer and lost all my skills when I discovered WordPress. It does everything I could ever want without me needing to know a lick of code.

The advantages of a self-hosted wordpress blog are:

  • You choose your own domain name and people can access your blog directly at YOURNAMEHERE.XYZ
  • You have complete control over your “theme,” meaning design and layout. You can choose from any of the millions of WordPress themes, free or paid, and customize them with the tens of thousands of available “plugins” to add whatever extra functionality you need.
  • You can run ads
  • You can run an online shop using free plugins
  • You can allow commenting according to your desires, offer a member login section, set up a forum, integrate with your social media or a newsletter… pretty much endless options.

Unlike the free options above, a self-hosted WordPress blog costs about $50 a year using Bluehost, a partner I’ve known and loved for years. It can be more if you decide to purchase fancy themes or plugins or get so much traffic you need to someday upgrade packages. That’s never been a problem for me! 😉

Going this route, the steps to start a cancer blog are:

1. Choose your name

It’s tough to change your blog name after you’ve bought the domain and set up hosting so make sure it’s something that will fit you for awhile moving forward. I originally chose cancerV.me just because it was short for my family to type and now here I am, sticking it on every infographic. Consider all your futures.

Also, take into consideration what’s available. If you’re committed to a .com the pickins are a little slim. Don’t be afraid to branch out too a different dot something (called a TLD or top level domain). Check your choice with Bluehost to make sure it’s available.

2. Register your domain and set up hosting

Head over to Bluehost and select your plan. Their shared plan at $3.99/ £3.19 per month should hold you over until your brand goes global. They even include domain name registration for free! (This is usually around $15 anywhere else.)

3. Install WordPress

Bluehost makes this super easy!

  • Log in to your Bluehost account and go to the Website Builder section.
  • Click on the WordPress logo
  • On the “Do it yourself FREE” section of the next page, click “Install”
  • Click “Check Domain”
  • Agree to the terms & conditions and click “Install Now”
  • After you see the message saying “Your install is complete!” click “View Credentials.” Write down your admin URL, username and password. You can change them after you log in the first time.
  • Visit your admin URL.
  • Log in with your username and password.

Congratulations!! You have a website and installed a content management system!

3. Choose a design

Or “theme” as WordPress calls it. WordPress comes set up with a few good looking themes installed. You can choose one of these when you’re first getting started.

If, however, you want something a little more custom, there are tons of themes out there both free and paid. Just search “free wordpress themes” and you’ll get thousands of the latest options.

If you want something more fancy, check out the WordPress themes at envato. I actually went through 3 of their themes while cancerV.me was evolving:

  • kale was my first theme when I originally planned to be more food-focused
  • I switched to bridge when I started branching out a little more
  • soledad is what I use now
  • On my nutritionist site, I use nutrico.

Themes are almost like shirts you can change at will. Once I bought these, they’re still available if I want to switch back. So don’t be afraid to experiment, explore and change your identity as your vision grows.

Maybe you started writing about your healing cancer smoothies and ended up as a podcaster? Or you shared your cute headwrap and suddenly find yourself with a shop unable to meet demand. Who knows where this crazy journey will lead you.

4. Post updates, articles, photos, video

It doesn’t matter what kind of shirt you’re wearing if there’s no substance underneath. You started this blog to tell a story and now you have the tools to make sure that story is heard.

Whether you post simple updates at first, like I did, or dive right into the video streaming, no one knows better than us how important it is to get the message out now.

5. Generate readership

Finally, make sure your story doesn’t languish in the interclouds. In addition to sharing your blog with your family and friends, don’t be afraid to promote it through your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, online newsletters or by cross-posting to other sites.

You have something important to say and people need to hear it.

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