Hours after his wife, Phyllis, was diagnosed in August 1994, Mark Waldorf sat with a laptop computer on his bed, typed "breast cancer" into an Internet search engine and began poring through the mountain of choices.
It became a near-daily ritual over the next four years, as the Douglaston, N.Y., couple tried to cope with the disease.
Phyllis Waldorf was dean of a public high school in Queens, and her husband, a computer consultant, was the Internet expert of their house. Mark sifted through cancer Web sites, joined an online therapy group and subscribed to e-mail lists about clinical trials and alternative treatments.
When he deemed something credible, Waldorf would print it and discuss it with his wife. When they visited surgeons and specialists, they'd cart along a notebook stuffed with the latest information and questions. When a physician mentioned a new medical term, Waldorf would ask for a spelling and scrawl down the term so he could research it on the Web.
Phyllis Waldorf died in February 1998 at age 48. Three days before her death, her husband launched www.breastcanceronline.com, a Web site chronicling their experience. It includes dozens of links to resources and support groups, as well as his personal journal.
It's one of the hundreds of medical-related sites that have emerged not from professionals but from people looking to give and find support.
Waldorf said he did it to help others navigate the online maze of information and avoid the early frustration he encountered. But he also said sharing the experience on the Web was cathartic.
"Whatever helps people, it's not for me to judge what's right or wrong," Waldorf said. "It really has helped me to heal from the loss."
The reward, he says, comes from the scores of visitors worldwide who have posted comments in his guest book, ranging from friends and acquaintances to the British college professor who said he would use the site to help his medical students understand what a patient's family endures.
Many comments are similar to the one from a woman who chose not to leave her name but described herself as a breast cancer patient. She wrote: "I am so very afraid of my journey ahead. Visiting your site, which I do often but in small doses, helps me to come to terms with my diagnosis; it helps me to grieve . . . . Thank you so much for the solace I find here."