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Facebook Gives Cancer Patients Support

CancerWise - July 2008

By Darcy De Leon

Breast cancer patient Julia Wellner, 37, feels like she’s too young to have cancer, especially because she can’t relate to older patients. To channel that frustration, she has found young survivors like herself on Facebook.

"Facebook, Twitter and various blogs allow custom tailoring of what you're looking for, and thus, I can read just about cancer programs for young, working mothers,” says Wellner, a professor at the University of Houston whose son is 5. “And I can feel as though I am in the norm or part of a group, rather than at the end of a spectrum where not everything is for me."

Launched in 2004, Facebook allows people to create their own social network, where they can find and make friends. For cancer patients, no matter their age, Facebook has become a vehicle for keeping in touch with friends and family, sharing health updates, garnering support and having fun.

Create a community on Facebook

Some cancer patients say they use Facebook to stay connected with friends they’ve met during treatment.

“We compare our current statuses as survivors and give each other support," says Sara Conrad, a 17-year-old from Stevensville, Mich., who was diagnosed with an optic nerve brain tumor as a 1-year-old.

If you build a Facebook group, they will come

Brain tumor survivor Eric Galvez has used Facebook for the same reasons as Wellner and Conrad — to find other young cancer survivors he can relate to and to update family and friends on his health.

"The access to a sense of community was a large reason I decided to use Facebook," he says.

To become part of a specific community, users can simply join an existing Facebook group of their choice or create one.

Galvez has created two cancer-related groups. The first is mAss Kickers, a cancer survivor group with 295 members, that's designed to empower patients with knowledge "so they are less intimidated by the medical process.” The other is Tumors Suck, a support network for young survivors with 822 members.

”Through both groups, people can share resources with each other, Galvez says. “It's very interactive. I enjoy meeting people that understand the issues that come with survivorship."

M. D. Anderson Facebook sites:

Other cancer-related Facebook sites:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center