Breast cancer patients find support online
Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans 18 and older use social media. Many people use it to connect with friends and family or catch up on the news. For those battling diseases like breast cancer, however, the online world has another important purpose: emotional support.
The average American spends 1.7 hours per day on social media, and a simple search for “breast cancer support” on Facebook turns up dozens of groups with thousands of collective members.
“Many of our patients rely on online relationships for added support, some through social media sites, but others through more formally organized mentoring programs,” says Peggy Kupres, an oncology research coordinator at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “We are finding that a lot of our patients’ caregivers are reaching out for online support, too.”
Studies have shown that patients undergoing cancer treatment are at higher risk for additional health issues, like depression and anxiety. Online support has been linked to improved mental health for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, giving them more resources than ever before.
Barb Jensen, a breast health navigator at the hospital, says there is a lot of camaraderie in online support.
“You can find people going through the same things as you, but they don’t necessarily have to live nearby,” says Jensen. “Online support really breaks their social circles open, helping them connect with people who understand what they’re going through, regardless of location.”
Jensen says she also tries to connect patients with formal mentoring programs through organizations like Imerman Angels and After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD).
Both pair current patients with mentors who are survivors. Oftentimes, the women live in different parts of the country, so their relationship develops over the phone or online. Sometimes, when a patient completes treatment, she becomes a mentor to women who are newly diagnosed, helping continue the circle of support and encouragement.
While online support has many benefits, Kupres recommends people always be thoughtful in how they engage.
“The 24-hour availability of online support can be hugely valuable, and the physical distance between users can offer a sense of privacy,” she says. “But it’s wise to exercise caution in sharing intimate personal information, especially in large or public groups. Also, be careful when accepting medical advice from others. Stick with reputable websites and always work in careful partnership with your physician.”