I Gained Thousands Of Followers With My Cancer Announcement, And Lost Them With My Anti-Racism Posts

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

Two months ago, I decided to tell my social media followers what I’d been dealing with for several weeks. In addition to preparing to have my breast implants removed due to the numerous symptoms and ongoing pain I’d been experiencing, I also had a breast cancer recurrence in my chest wall. I’d found a lump and promptly contacted my doctor. From there, a slew of appointments and scans ensued. I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time in four years.

I chose to share my truth because hiding it was too much work and burdensome. Furthermore, I’m a big believer in turning your personal trial into advocacy and education, hopefully saving someone else from the same fate or empowering them to get through their own journey. After sharing my breast cancer diagnosis on social media, I gained thousands of followers in just a few weeks. That came to a screeching halt when I then posted about the critically important anti-racism work.


Getty Images

My posts were mostly focused on my upcoming surgeries and updates on my recovery. I continued, as I had for years, to advocate for self-breast exams. I welcomed many new followers, some of them sharing their own breast cancer scares or journeys. I received tons of support, gifts sent to my family, including lots of food gift cards, as well as encouraging words.

However, when I posted about anti-racism, my follower total began dropping by dozens, then hundreds. It appeared that when I posted about cancer (or as some of my followers commented, “trauma porn”), everyone wanted to shower me with pink ribbons and “you’ve got this” messages, but when I brought another crucially important topic to light, racism, some people got real uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that they unfollowed me.

I’ve received messages from followers telling me what I should and shouldn’t be talking about on my social media pages. They don’t understand why I’m “racist against white people,” to which I remind them that’s not even a thing, just like colorblindness, reverse racism, and the race card aren’t real, either. They tell me I should be focused on posting about my health and they didn’t realize that this “was a page about politics.” I then remind them, anti-racism isn’t a political stance. It’s a moral issue that of course, impacts all areas of life. We should all be anti-racist.

Apparently my journey to and from cancer, and then back again, is much more appealing, inspirational, and praise worthy than sharing the realities that my children and people who look like them face every single day.

When I called out the unfollows on social media, I received a few messages from people saying “good riddance.” I initially agreed that haters are gonna hate, and they need to go. But the more I consider it, the more upset it makes me. I don’t care if they don’t follow me specifically, rather, I am disturbed that when race is brought up, they bail. If they do this to me, a white woman with privilege, I’m certain they aren’t follow BIPOC truth-tellers on social media, either. If they can’t even handle a white woman telling them what’s up, I know they aren’t listening to people of color.

This leaves them as upholders of white supremacy, rooted in privilege and fragility. The problem is that their long-held beliefs about themselves and people of color, means their actions reflect their beliefs—in committee meetings, in board rooms, on sports fields alongside kids, and in other spaces. Racism spreads like wildfire, through microaggressions, stereotypes, policies.

In essence, they, more than anyone need to stay and hold space for unlearning racial inequity. But they can’t, because they are gone. They’d rather be confronted and entertained with me losing my breasts and going through chemo than learn how to advocate for melanin rich people and dismantle supremacy.

I’m not going to stop posting about the importance of anti-racism, even if that means losing popularity. I’m not on social media to be popular, anyway. It’s not about me. I’m not trying to prove to anyone that I’m woke, a white ally, or a racial-equity activist. What they perceive me to be isn’t my concern.

My goal is to share information for the betterment of others. I’ve done this from the beginning, and I will keep doing it. Though I certainly wish that my children’s lives and equity meant as much (actually, way more) to people as my pink ribbons, mastectomy scars, and reminders to check their breasts every month.

Denying the realities that people of color face, including my children, only perpetuates supremacy. Ignorance is not bliss, and in fact, is deeply harmful toward the Black community. Their lives are at stake, and it’s up to every single white person to work to dismantle the systems that seek to harm. Shirking that responsibility in lieu of a viral cat video, the latest Kardashian scandal, or even looking at my latest health update, isn’t going to help society become equitable. The goal should never be white comfort, though sadly, it too often is.

To all the people who unfollowed me, fine. Yes, I noticed, but no, I don’t desperately need you in my life. What does bother me is that I know why you decided to bid me farewell. I wonder when, if ever, you will wake up and decide that the life of another is just as worthy as your own.

This article was originally published on