Coping with cancer, caring for someone with cancer, or surviving cancer can be isolating for every group, regardless of age, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other demographic marker. A cancer diagnosis instantly changes a person’s life.
In addition to being laden with a fear for the future, new cancer patients also become saddled with a weight that many in their social circle do not understand and are unsure how to address. As they process the avalanche of emotions that comes with a cancer diagnosis, they too often don’t have anyone with a similar experience to confide in and receive support from.
For young people and minority communities, these feelings of loneliness and isolation can be even more pronounced. While some 80,000 people aged 20 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States and as we all know, the social pressures with younger groups are exponentially intense.
Despite the support most cancer patients and survivors get from their loved ones, the only groups who can truly understand what a patient is going through mentally, physically, and emotionally are other patients and survivors, particularly those in a cohort with similar demographic markers. That’s why the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation recently announced the launch of CancerBuddy, the first-ever social support network mobile application for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.
This free peer support smartphone app helps patients, survivors, and caregivers find resources, emotional support, and medical information. It also allows them to build and engage with a community of peers going through similar experiences within their cancer hospital, city, state, country and, eventually, across the globe. Patients can connect with people by diagnosis, symptoms, age, gender, and interests, allowing them to find support and connection when it’s needed most.
At a time when people find themselves feeling incredibly alone, with nobody who understands what they are experiencing, CancerBuddy provides access to others who are going through something similar and can offer the support they need. Importantly, it will allow young people to connect with other young people and minority communities to connect with people from similar backgrounds that may otherwise be very hard to find. In turn, that can play an important role in addressing health disparities that result from an inability or apprehension to engage with the medical care establishment.
CancerBuddy can also be a salient tool for hospitals, medical professionals, and support organizations, all of whom can benefit from using it to build communities. Cancer patients of all diagnoses—and the organizations who do great work to support those patients—can share their experiences and provide support resources.
Similarly, health care providers can use CancerBuddy as a hub to share information and resources for their patients’—and their patients’ caregivers—benefit. Using the app, they can organize and lead support groups that strengthen connections and provide useful information amongst their community members.
Every group can find value in a network that helps them navigate a cancer diagnosis. Younger patients and those from marginalized groups can particularly benefit from the peer support that CancerBuddy offers. At a time often marked by severe loneliness, CancerBuddy can help people know that they are not alone.
Christina Merrill is the founder and CEO of the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation.
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