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Posted at 12:42 PM ET, 08/08/2011

New social network deals with cancer through digital connections


I Had Cancer, a new social network for cancer fighters, survivors and those who support them, lets users search for people by location, age and type of cancer. (IHADCANCER.COM)
By all accounts, dealing with cancer can be one of life’s most isolating experiences. Despite the fact that the American Cancer Society estimates that one-half of American men and one-third of American women will have cancer at some point in their lives, many find that the topic is still difficult to talk about.

So Mailet Lopez, a breast cancer survivor, decided that the time had come for the world’s first social networking site to connect those affected by cancer — ihadcancer.com.

Lopez said that she had a great support network while she dealt with her cancer, but found that she wished she had a way to connect with others who had gone through the same thing.

“I didn’t know anyone who had been through it and had no one that I could really talk to about treatment, no one to tell me what it was really like, no one to say what would hurt or what it would be like to lose my hair,” Lopez said in an interview. “I felt it was my duty to do something to make it easier for people to connect.”

So, using her skills as the co-founder of Squeaky Wheel Media, Lopez sketched out the idea for I Had Cancer.

The site, which went live in a beta launch at the end of July, aims to let those fighting cancer, cancer survivors and those who’ve supported someone with cancer share their knowledge.

“No matter how small someone’s experience is with cancer, you should go on this site and share it,” Lopez said. “It has the potential to help someone else in those exact shoes right now, even it’s telling someone about a place where your wife found a great wig.”

Users can sort profiles by age, gender, location, type of cancer and year diagnosed to make online or in-person connections to support each other.

“We felt it important to ask for those things,” Lopez said. “Sometimes you have questions that are specific. For me, I didn’t have kids had questions about how cancer would affect my life that only my peers — only women of a certain age group — would know.”

A search by location brings up results that go down to the city or zip-code level. A quick search shows 39 members in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area have joined. Lopez said that the site also has users in other countries.

Users concerned about their privacy do not have to disclose their real names and are free to set up profiles using their usernames, Lopez said. Members are not required to provide some information on their interactions with cancer and, of course, can choose to share that content with only members in their network. Lopez said that users could, for example, use the site to connect only with their family members.

To include someone in your network on the site, both people have to confirm the connection.

There’s also a public discussion board for users to ask more general questions and a section of the site called “Dear Cancer.”

In that section, users take the opportunity to address cancer itself, to curse it — or thank it — and share their feelings with the world and comment on each others’ notes.

The messages range in tone. “Dear Cancer, I win,” writes one user.

“Just Diagnosed,” says another.

Lopez said that she and co-founders Robert Boyle and Anthony Del Monte hope to add more functionality to the site, such as events and news from people within their network.

Lopez says she hopes the network amplifies the immediate bond that she has felt when she shares her experiences with other who’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

“A lot people don’t realize how many people are being affected by it until they mention it,” Lopez said. “Long gone are the days when people keep it as a secret, as a taboo. I Had Cancer is about being positive and having hope.”

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By  |  12:42 PM ET, 08/08/2011

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