There was a time when a woman diagnosed with breast cancer depended on her circle of friends, family and work colleagues for emotional support. Or she could join a support group. Getting medical information may have been limited to the hospital where she was treated.
With the rise of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and online discussion groups, women with breast cancer now have access to much wider networks to find support and get answers to their questions. Blogging can help a woman share her experiences on the Internet and interact with people from other states, other countries or other cultures.
When a woman is newly diagnosed with breast cancer, she often seeks out online forums and discussion boards at cancer sites, like the Breast Cancer Site or Young Survival Coalition.
The Breast Cancer Site page on Facebook has almost 250,000 fans. The page posts links about fund-raising events around the world and breaking news on cancer research. The site itself has a section called Share Your Story, where women can share their experiences directly with others. The forum is for both survivors and supporters.
"Tell us your story of courage and love," says the introduction to Share Your Story, "and inspire other survivors and supporters around the world."
"I come to the Web site every day ... to read the newest story of hope and bravery. I am so inspired by these women and know that should I need the support, I definitely have a safe haven with women who would have gone before me," wrote one reader.
Sites like these can help a woman with breast cancer realize that she is not alone, that many others share her experience and can help her feel supported during what is arguably the worst time of her life.
Dian, a radio journalist, uses her Facebook and Twitter pages to keep friends and family updated about the progress of her breast cancer treatment. She finds it too tiring to send emails to individual people or to phone them, but she can easily post regular updates on social networking sites. The messages she gets back from people support her emotionally, she says. People often have suggestions about books, foods and relaxation practices that she can try.
Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She had no knowledge of social networking at the time and didn't access it during her diagnosis and treatment.
"It's only in the last year, when I decided to set up a blog on the aftermath of treatment, that I started down the path of social networking," she says, "There are many blogs, chat forums and Web sites available for those newly diagnosed or going through treatment, but not much out there on what it is like to have gone through the experience and how you integrate it with the rest of your life."
She set up a blog called Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer that she says has been very well received.
Five years after having cancer, she uses her blog, "to connect with those working in the field of advocacy. I see my role as providing support and information. I want to use my knowledge and experience to light the road ahead for women."
"For me, I find a great sense of community and connectedness in writing my blog," she says. "It helps me make sense of my own cancer experience. It allows me to keep up to date with the latest medical research and best practices."
Marie says she is careful to filter information about breast cancer to make sure it is substantiated.
The only downside, she says, to keeping up her blog, is that her husband worries that she is not moving on from the cancer by staying involved in the lives of women who have it.
She disagrees, saying, "I believe that as a cancer survivor, I owe it to others to help however I can."