Hello, I’m Helen Polise, also known as theMuthership. For decades, I was a successful TV commercial director living my best life. Then the pandemic happened, and production halted, leaving me temporarily without work at 59.
Enter TikTok, without question, a discovery that changed my life. I entertained myself and a few followers with fun trends, dances and even baking videos. Several of my videos went viral, and I realized I had a knack for creating content on the platform, so I began sharing tutorials demonstrating how to use TikTok. In the blink of an eye, my following grew to over 620k and counting!
It quickly became apparent that there was a huge community of people looking to learn how to use TikTok from someone who is clear, relatable and inclusive. And thus, my second career as The TikTok Teacher began. I threw myself into multiple platforms, producing tutorials, filming my own fun videos, and responding to all the questions about effects, tips, and transitions.
I went from being a successful director and producer to finding myself with millions of views on TikTok to being a venture capital-funded startup founder (at 61, no less!) building a social media learning platform called Socialize. It had been something of a press tour-driven rocketship the past few months. But life had other plans.
Over the course of a very surreal two weeks, I lost my eyesight, and the doctors discovered that the cause was actually lymphoma which had invaded multiple parts of my body, including a space behind my eyes, causing the vision loss.
What a perspective shift, right? All my previous worries and stresses became, in five minutes, irrelevant. But what made Helen Polise, TheMuthership, the helper, the relentlessly optimistic force for good wasn’t going anywhere. I knew in a lifetime of reinvention that Helen, the cancer victim, was absolutely not going to be my next identity.
In the darkest days of my life (literally and figuratively), I turned to what has always driven me forward: I documented what was happening in selfie video mode.
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The raw emotions were mixed and a bit wild as I occasionally laughed at myself in the midst of tears, or blurted out, “I think my hair looks good even though I can’t see it.” But I just kept recording.
As my sight worsened day by day, I even had my husband film me while I bared my soul one minute and then blindly danced in front of the colorful hospital wall while I processed all the different diagnoses that got me to the final one.
No matter how painful and scary this all felt in the moment, I knew sharing what I was going through could probably help other people going through similar things. Along with my family, it’s what kept me going: my core purpose, which cannot be defeated by cancer or anything. I am here to help people.
During it all, documented in the many videos I recorded in the aftermath of the diagnosis, is my little bestie, my daughter Juli, either lining me up for the camera and clicking the record button when I couldn’t see, or dancing alongside me. Together while I was still without eyesight, we edited a 7-min TikTok documentary and released it on Instagram and Facebook.
The response was overwhelming and beautiful.
I let my family, my friends and ultimately thousands of “strangers on the internet” remind me every day who I was and what lights me up. If you have doubts about the good in the world, I’m here to tell you there is so much goodness, kindness and caring when you share your true self.
The outpouring of universal love and support from social media and the reaction to my experience is just hard to put into words. It is still amazing every day to see the impact my story has on people I’ve never met, and I feel that although I don’t want cancer to define me, it is now a part of my tapestry moving forward and thousands of people are with me! One of my TikTok followers sent me a bracelet that reads “Noone fights alone,” and that says it all.
I continue to return to a comment from a TikTok user, part of my community:
I started following you to learn more about how to use instagram and tiktok, but since you have started on your very unexpected chemo journey you’ve taught me so much more than you will ever know! Wish I could tell you how much we all care. You have our love and support.
Believe me, I know how much you all care, thanks to your amazing messages and support.
I’m beyond thrilled to be able to share that my sight is returning, and I’m undergoing the rest of my treatment doing the things I love the most: creating content, talking to my community, and finding inspiration from other creators. I’m back to teaching TikTok and moving forward full steam ahead with Socialize because content creation has become even more important to me than before, and I am passionate about teaching others how to share their own stories.
I believe deeply in the powers of vulnerability and community as a way to change the world by lifting others. I’m going to dance and laugh my way through this next stage, and on the other side of it, I’m going to give you all hugs and teach you how to dance through your dark times.
I have always tried to bring light and joy to people who feel invisible; it’s been my core purpose for as long as I can remember. Social media has accelerated my passion for this and has given me a larger platform to do so.