Deepening connections

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of deepening connections. I’ve been lucky enough to have been healthy enough and had funds enough to travel to the UK to attend two conferences (ALT-C Ed Tech Conference and QUB ePatient Blogging conference). This was quickly followed up by the Medicine X Ed conference here at Stanford, and later today I’ll be heading over to the Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara. It has been a whirlwind. Somewhere in the middle I even did a reading as part of a book launch.

I’ve been writing this post in my head over and over since my return from the UK. Meeting people face-to-face for the first time can be very emotional, invigorating, and stimulating. There can be magic. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes when you meet in person, things just don’t work out. It is like the messiness that is life. No one is perfect, and yet we have a tendency to want to project that perfection on our virtual friends. That being said, we sometimes are surprised at just how nice people are in person. This post is about a few of the genuinely nice people that I had the pleasure to connect with in real life (IRL) – note that I dislike this term, but it is what is commonly used and is easier to type.

My point behind this post is to share some of the great times I’ve had over the last few weeks. Let’s start by the opportunity to meet Maha Bali. She was my friend and confidant throughout my cancer treatment. She was the first online friend that I told. I made a request of her, asking for some scarves, as she would know what it meant to wear a head covering on a hot summer day. She obliged but did something even more meaningful. She sent me some scarves that she bought for me, but also shared with me scarves that were hers. She shared a tradition that is common among muslim women. I was so deeply honored.

This was the first selfie we too right after meeting in real life (IRL) for the first time:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugMaha’s daughter understood it sooner than we did. For her, it was no big deal. I was just Rebecca. She was used to seeing me on the screen and hearing my voice. Being physically present didn’t change anything. Meanwhile Maha and I spent a lot of time poking each other, hugging, validating that we were in the same physical space. It was special.

While we were in Manchester, there were so many people who wanted to meet Maha. It was a challenge to get any alone time. In the end, I was able to sneak in about 10 minutes of alone time – unfortunately, it was because I just needed a hug after hearing of Jaq’s passing. Again, I was able to call on my dear friend and confident.

We were in Manchester to present at the ALT conference, with our other rhizo friends and colleagues. Sarah has posted our presentation on her blog here: Rhizocats. In the end, I didn’t see too much of the conference itself, other than the two keynotes and a couple of sessions. I chose to skip out on the sessions in favour of spending time with Maha and supporting our Virtually Connecting project.

It was sad to say goodbye to Maha and her daughter, but I’m so glad I had the chance to meet IRL.

And one last selfie for the road:
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I then went on to the Queens University of Belfast ePatient Blogging and Microblogging conference. Here I got to meet a whole bunch of really amazing people. I’ve already blogged about how I found my tribe there, and how the conference helped give me language to better describe the type of research I want to do (one word – autopathography).

After the conference AnneMarie Cunningham, a friend I met at the Canadian Conference for Medical Education (CCME) in Ottawa two months before diagnosis (April 2014). When AnneMarie last came to San Francisco in October 2014, she reached out and said it would be nice to connect. Since chemo had made me unable to drive, my husband took a day off work and we toured around with AnneMarie and her husband. We enjoyed playing tour guides, but forgot to mention one thing … never turn your back on the ocean!

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After the QUB conference, AnneMarie brought me with her while she called on a friend from her university days in Belfast. It was interesting to learn a little bit more about Northern Ireland through the lens of old friends. I learned that in Northern Ireland, flags carry political connotations. After a brief visit, we headed out of town, passing a flute band on the street, which is yet another politically charged icon (Google Belfast Flute Bands). As we were leaving town we past by an odd sculpture called Rise, on the west side of Belfast. The locals call the sculpture either ‘The balls of the falls’ or ‘westicle’, which made us laugh.

I had mentioned to AnneMarie that back in the early 80s I had a penpal from Ireland – Castleblayney in county Monagham. It was through my penpal that I learned about ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Since it was almost on the way to AnneMarie’s mothers place, we drove through Castleblayney. We couldn’t find a castle to take a picture of, so instead, we took a picture of the festivities that we had just missed (arriving about 5 hours too late) – the Irish Bog Snorkelling Championships:
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After Castleblayney, we headed to Kilkeel and AnneMarie’s mother place, where we spent the night. The next day, AnneMarie’s mothers birthday, we went out to a nice lunch and I had a chance to meet a couple of AnneMarie’s siblings.

After lunch, we went on a bit of a tour of the area. I mentioned to AnneMarie that I had no yet been to a castle on this trip (I love castles). We drove over to take a peak at Greencastle Royal Castle:

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We were surprised to learn that the castle was open to the public. Not at all dressed appropriately for tromping around castles, we did it anyways:
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One of the people I was really looking forward to meeting at the QUB ePatient conference was Marie Ennis O’Connor. Unfortunately, she was not well enough to travel that week so we didn’t get to meet IRL. Fortunately, the following week both AnneMarie and Marie were coming to Stanford to present at Medicine X Ed. So I had a chance to connect with both of them again here:

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This time it was my turn to play tour guide. I had some lovely moments with both AnneMarie and Marie. I as able to share my tree with each of them:

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AnneMarie was here a little longer, so we took a quick drive up to Muir woods to see some of the giant coastal redwoods:
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I love the little (and big) things I learn about people when I get to spend a little time with them. I value my online friendships, but I have to admit that my connections go deeper when I get a chance to be with people in real life. I am honored to be able to call Maha, AnneMarie, and Marie friends. It has been such a pleasure to be able to spend some time connecting.

One thing I have learned about my closest online friends – they are all connectors. They are all people who thrive off of feeding relationships, and connecting people to one another. It is something that I also enjoy doing. I love it when something that I do brings two people together – catalyzing a new connection. It is not uncommon for our conversations to go something like “do you know this person?” or “you should meet this person” or “let me connect you to this person”. I see it in all of us. It is how we weave our webs.

  • Becky


  • What a lovely post- thank you:) has been super spending time with you!

  • Hoda has been asking about you, so she loved seeing these photos again 🙂
    I have also been thinking of how the most connected moment I had the whole time in England was those 10 mins of hugging you while you grieved. It was the only truly alone time (without even Hoda) that we had, and I am sad it happened, but grateful I could be there with you for it.

    Ur right about us poking each other a lot when we met! Lol.

    I am happy you had other lovely times at the medical conferences.

    It makes me realize why I resist focusing vc sessions on topics. It’s really about people for me, and topics are secondary. Not because people are superstars, but because relationships matter more than content. And I wouldn’t want to limit the flow of conversation

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