It's early evening in Norfolk, Va., where "Janice_78" lives. Across
cyberspace, the "Pink Bus" is ready to roll -- ready for breast cancer
survivors like her to hop aboard.
Riders on this virtual bus are slogging their way through scans and
surgeries, making the best of bald heads and insurance hassles. On the Pink
Bus, they get hugs, tears, maybe a few (virtual) strawberry margaritas. As they
have found, just typing a few words -- posting a lone message in the abyss --
can bring real friendship.
Each year in the United States, close to 250,000 women learn they have breast cancer. As they deal
with their diagnosis, they are also asked to make daunting decisions about how
to best fight their disease.
New patients facing treatment need to understand their options, and that
means learning all they can about their cancer, says breast cancer
surgeon Lee Gravatt Wilke, MD.
Wilke, who is an assistant professor of surgery at Duke University Health
System and a board member of the NavigateCancer...
The Pink Bus is a joyride, you might say. It departs regularly from one of
WebMD's message boards, connecting the group of women and their loved ones who
regularly support each other on Breast Cancer: Friend to Friend. This
cyber meeting site is one of more than 150 boards devoted to health and
lifestyle issues and conditions at WebMD.com.
Medical studies reinforce the importance of support for women with breast
cancer, especially after treatment. In one study, women who had recently
completed treatment for breast cancer reported having emotional problems and
difficulty functioning in social situations. However, with social support they
showed significant improvement in their overall quality of life. The Internet
has opened a floodgate of opportunities for women seeking support, enabling
them to reach out from the comfort of their homes, no matter the time, date, or
even the weather.
Just 10 years ago, this wasn't possible -- an amazing Internet connection
among so many breast cancer survivors, all fighting the same battles, all
knowing too well what another is thinking, feeling. In the 1970s, when my own
mother faced breast cancer surgery, she knew no one who had traveled that road.
She would have loved the Pink Bus.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when these
battle-weary women find themselves in the spotlight. Raising awareness, of
course, is the goal. But for some, the pink ribbons and gimmicks are
"If you're newly diagnosed, you're scared," says Janice Haines
(a.k.a. Janice_78) . "And if you're metastatic, you've pretty much reached
the end of your rope. You want a cure, and you want it right now." Still,
no one denies that education is critical. "Breast cancer is much more out
there than it used to be. People are getting diagnosed at younger and younger
'You Feel So Alone'
In 1998, Haines was among the first to join this message board. She had just
finished treatment for stage II cancer; 10 of 16 nodes were positive. She was
scared. She was jealous.
"When I was first diagnosed, I didn't know anyone who had this,"
says Haines. "You feel so alone. You feel depression, anger, jealousy. Your
friends' lives go on. They can go home to their families, whereas my life was
torn apart. At the doctor's office, the nurses were so supportive and so kind.
But at the end of the day, they could clock out and go home. I couldn't. I felt
bad feeling that way, feeling jealous." When she went online, she found
kindred souls who understood. "I could talk it out. I could vent," she