When the Social Media Hustle Means Survival

Curator's Note

When it comes to cancer, The Hustle can be complicated.

There are celebrities who use their large social media followings to turn a bad into a good. Specifically, they reveal the raw and unglamorous side of their lives as cancer patients. Their usually carefully curated images are stripped bare, and they show themselves to be human. They raise awareness for prevention, early detection, and treatment. The Social Media Hustle isn’t for personal gain that we usually associate with “The Hustle”; they become, if only for a short time, one of a large group – though one with the power to spread a message very far.

The latest to do this is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, announcing her breast cancer diagnosis the day after she won an Emmy award. She has posted again since then: an inspiring call to fight, quoting Katy Perry’s Many cancer patients (myself included) have found her inspiring.

But Louis-Dreyfus’s initial announcement on social media moved beyond merely making people “aware”; it ended with a call for universal health care, recognizing that not everyone can afford the care that she will have.

Celebrity is relative. Some cancer patients (and others with chronic health conditions) on social media are influencers -- celebrities within their own small communities. Their followings are not the size of Selena Gomez’s 128 million Instagram followers, but many are in the tens of thousands. Even those patients with five figure followings can take advantage of The Side Hustle: advertising, affiliate programs, and product endorsements bring in extra income.

But For other patients, there is no “Side” to the The Hustle. When insurance is cancelled or rates go up, or a job is lost because of exhaustion from treatments, The Hustle can become their only source of income. Some cancer patients who turned to social media to share their stories and seek a supportive community find that they are dependent on that community to support them financially.

The Hustle has many aspects. Sometimes it’s about a celebrity padding an already sizable income. Sometimes The Hustle gets tucked away for the greater good. And sometimes The Hustle means survival.


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