Cancer affects everyone. Whether it has affected you personally, a family member, or a friend, it is hard to find someone who has not been touched in some way by this dreaded disease. Today, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. The good news is that some cancers can be cured. But as the disease progresses, patients often feel isolated while battling cancer.
Patients often have questions that require answers beyond what cancer care providers can offer. As the body changes and the most intimate aspects of your personal life are affected, you may be embarrassed to discuss such personal matters with your physician. Moreover, many patients yearn for a community that will support them and understand exactly what they are going through, looking for tools to help them deal with their cancer diagnosis.
“The amount of time that doctors give to each of their patients, and what patients choose to share with their physicians, is limited,” says Varda Shalev, MD, MPH, Head of Maccabi and Morris Kahn Institute for Research and Innovation, Maccabi Healthcare Services, Tel Aviv, Israel. “Many patients are willing to write openly and honestly on a platform that gives them an option of anonymity and contact with others who are fighting the same battles. That social aspect is filling a crucial role when it comes to patients and physicians obtaining a more complete picture of the diagnosis and treatment process,” Dr. Shalev adds.
Navigating treatment and coping with cancer is a complex and challenging process for all patients and their loved ones. Selecting suitable treatment, understanding medical terminology and treatment processes, as well as the preparations required in each stage of the disease, are critical for effectively navigating cancer and maintaining good quality of life.
One patient with breast cancer who lives in the Midwest knows this all too well. “Even with the closest of connections, it’s difficult for supportive family and friends to fully understand what you’re going through,” she says. Early in her journey, this patient turned to traditional social networks, such as Facebook, in addition to local support groups, but found that they couldn’t fully fulfill her information and emotional needs.
Belong: A Large Online Community
That patient then found Belong.Life, an online social network for patients with cancer and their caregivers that offers them a way to share experiences and knowledge, and interact with people going through a similar experience.
More than 120,000 patients with cancer have turned to Belong.Life’s free mobile app that functions as a social network for patients with cancer, caregivers, and medical professionals, and serves as a tool to help navigate cancer. Leveraging the power of big data and the wisdom of the crowd, Belong helps patients with cancer to better cope with challenges and help in their treatment.
Belong members have access to a treatment timeline that provides personalized tips and reminders in real time, based on where they are in their treatment. A free matching program for clinical trials provides opportunities for those who are looking for other options, changing the lives of many patients. In addition, a digital file allows members to securely organize and retrieve all the documents they’ve accumulated throughout their treatment.
The social side of the Belong community includes message boards, offering people the ability to speak openly—and anonymously—about issues related to their cancer. They can also reach out directly to other patients to find support from people dealing with the same issues. The message boards cover topics ranging from every type of cancer to questions about specific treatments, side effects, exercise, nutrition, sex, and more. This community-based feature is key to establishing a positive place for people to turn during such a difficult time.
Using advanced artificial intelligence technology, this app connects patients with the same type of cancer and matches them with people who have the same cancer stage and the same mutation, and use the same medication/treatment, to create very personalized experiences.
“It is empowering to know that I’m not alone and have access to a tremendous amount of relevant information and resources,” that patient said. “Most important, my own experiences may help someone else find a smarter path, and vice versa. We are all here for each other.”
Building a Social Network for Patients and Medical Professionals
I believe that a truly effective community, in addition to connecting patients with other patients, should also provide direct access to physicians, oncologists, radiologist specialists, experts, and nurses with international credentials. These experts can provide crucial information and insight. Being able to reach out to a large pool of medical professionals can help you receive answers to questions your primary doctors may not have the time to address. This is especially helpful for those who are diagnosed with rare cancers, when information is more difficult to find.
The need for a cancer-centric social network is clear. Creating a space for individuals battling cancer to speak honestly about their experiences opens many doors. In addition to helping people learn and feel comfortable to share their experiences openly, it emphasizes the importance of community and sheds a light on you, the patient.
Although many informative cancer websites and social networks are available today, finding a valuable and informative professional community, where everyone understands your situation, is less common. Being able to connect, share stories and tips, and ask questions during this time of uncertainty is crucial for patients with cancer.
Having access to up-to-date information, personalized tips and reminders, and relevant clinical trials can help your quality of life and improve your treatment outcomes. Nobody should fight cancer alone, and with a cancer-specific social platform available at your fingertips, you don’t have to.
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