Ready for some shhmoozing? How technology can help with your cancer recovery

Michelle Gallen turned to technology to aid in her recovery from encephalitis

In recent years, social networking services and the ever-changing digital technology landscape have affected many sectors of the global healthcare industry. Patients are using social networks to learn more about their health conditions and seek treatment information. Social networking allows medical professionals, researchers and advocates to crowdsource research and facilitate data collection, and at the same time we are seeing a growth in health technology tools to help manage and track medical conditions.

But long before these technology advances, what did we do for information and support? Someone who set out to leverage the health technology revolution in its early days is Michelle Gallen. I read a fascinating interview with Michelle in yesterday’s Irish Times Health, in which she spoke of how she used technology to overcome the devastating effects of encephalitis – a rare brain illness. As this is the very illness my own mother was diagnosed with in March this year and witnessing the very slow progress of Mum’s recovery, I was fascinated to read how Michelle turned to technology to deal with the cognitive deficits caused by this illness.

Nowadays, the internet is full of information on the illness, support, recovery. But in 1999 there was no Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. It was difficult to find information on encephalitis, and hard to stay in touch with friends using a 56k modem and a dial-up connection. But even in those early days, I knew the internet could help my damaged brain. It held facts and figures I had lost, stored information I could no longer remember. Without my laptop, I felt damaged and vulnerable. With it, I could scrabble for normalcy. And so my huge debt to technology began.

Apart from my interest in Michelle’s story because of what we are dealing with as a family with my mother, I also thought of it in relation to my own struggles with cognitive impairment aka “chemo brain” after going 6 rounds with chemotherapy.  I don’t care how many studies I read on the subject saying that chemo brain doesn’t exist, I know it does. That fuzzy headed, forgetfulness which occurs after chemotherapy, or while on hormonal treatment can be quite distressing as you try to pick up the pieces of your life and move on after breast cancer treatment. When I returned to work, I found it stressful and embarrassing not to be able to finish my train of thought in a meeting or on the telephone.

I still struggle today, having trouble remembering people’s names and some memory lapses – not a good look for someone whose job involves attending conferences and meetings, giving presentations and dealing with the public. That is why I love the concept of Shhmooze, co-founded by Michelle last year. It’s a smartphone app that uses location-based technology to help you connect with the professionals around you – ideal for attending events or conference. Michelle says that ” it’s a godsend for someone with a brain injury, who struggles to remember faces and names and can’t deal with large crowds.” Sound familiar??? 

I was really inspired by Michelle’s story and her attitude towards taking an active role in her recovery, and of course, as you know, if a story of recovery touches on digital media I am in my element!

Michelle concludes the Irish Times interview with these words which resonate so much with me:

Technology saved and changed my life. I believe we can all use it to change and save our country, our world. If we’re hungry enough, if we’re desperate enough, we’ll grab what’s there, and we’ll use it to make things better, to fix things, to help not just ourselves, but the people around us.

Have you turned to technology to aid your recovery from cancer or any other illness? Have you ever downloaded any medical apps? We would love to hear more about your experiences. And if you have questions you would like to ask Michelle, she has kindly agreed to drop by the blog and answer them for you.

Find out more about Shhmooze and download the app at

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