Turning to the internet for health information, help, and support is common practice today. According to Pew Research Center’s latest stats, 72 percent of adult internet users say they’ve searched online for health-related information, with specific diseases and treatments being the most sought-out topics.
Breast cancer survivor Anna Crollman can relate. She jumped online when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 at the age of 27.
"I desperately needed women my age to look to for hope, but struggled to find them." – Anna Crollman
“I immediately turned to Google when I was diagnosed to find specific resources. I spent a considerable amount of time looking for bloggers my age who had breast cancer, as well as young women talking about fertility and pregnancy after cancer,” Crollman says. “I desperately needed women my age to look to for hope, but struggled to find them.”
However, she did find comfort in websites like breastcancer.org, as well as from support groups.
“Going through a traumatizing experience like breast cancer can be scary and isolating. Finding others who can relate to your experiences forms an intense bond and a sense of comfort and community,” she says.
“Without technology and social media, I would not be where I am today thriving after cancer and working to support and inspire other survivors. I have met such a phenomenal community of women online through Young Survival Coalition, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and other social media platforms that have truly changed my life for the better,” Crollman says.
Finding community and conversation in an app
Crollman also discovered the world of apps.
One of her recent favorites is Breast Cancer Healthline (BCH). The free app makes it easy for users to find exactly what they need in one place. Designed for people facing breast cancer at all stages, BCH offers features that include daily group discussions led by a BCH guide. The guide leads topics around treatment, lifestyle, career, relationships, new diagnoses, and living with stage 4.
“Many support groups online can be overwhelming spaces where you have to sort through a multitude of information and sections to get what you need. I really like that the Healthline app has the support group feel, but it is also informative and inspirational without being overwhelming,” explains Crollman.
She particularly likes that the app’s guides help to keep conversations going, answer questions, and engage participants.
“It helped me feel very welcome and valued in the conversations. As a survivor a few years out from treatment, it was rewarding to feel like I could contribute insight and support to newly diagnosed women in the discussion.”
“I shared about ongoing side effects, nutrition, as well as exercise interests,” she adds. “I loved seeing women asking questions and immediately getting feedback in the app.”
Ann Silberman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, agrees. She points to the many meaningful conversations she’s had with other survivors via the BCH app.
“We have gotten into some important stuff on the living with stage 4 board,” she says.
"Our greatest need isn’t medical information, it’s meeting others who have been in our shoes." – Ann Silberman
In the app’s ‘newly diagnosed’ group, Silberman engaged in issues related to taking medications that your body isn’t used to and in the ‘relationships’ group, she’s participated in talks about the need for friends and family to manage your condition.
“Our greatest need isn’t medical information, it’s meeting others who have been in our shoes. This app helps emotionally, physically, and even with treatment. Doctors don’t understand how difficult a hormonal treatment can be, for example, and many women just silently give it up. Yet, hearing that others had the same difficulty and came up with a way to manage it can keep a woman compliant, at least until she can talk to her doctor,” says Silberman.
The Breast Cancer Healthline app also includes a matching feature that connects you with others based on your treatment, stage of cancer, and personal interests.
“My matches have been about my age and stage, so we’ve touched on our worries and fears. It’s incredibly helpful to have the matching system. Because I’m stage 4, travel is hard and without the online world I would not be able to even talk to people with my similar diagnosis,” Silberman says.
Breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart likes the BCH matching feature, too. When she was diagnosed at 28 years old, she searched online and asked other survivors which resources they recommended.
“I had to use [a] process of elimination in many instances, as many sites had no images of black people or any information on queer identities,” Hart says.
She recalls one instance in which a reputable breast cancer organization matched her with another survivor.
“It was a bit weird because the organization played a heavy role in managing when we would speak/connect. And when they matched us I didn’t feel connected, it felt forced,” says Hart.
BCH matches you with members from the community daily at 12 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST). You can also look through member profiles and send match requests.
When someone wants to connect with you, you’re sent a notification. Once connected, members can message one another and share photos.
"How we connect morphs as technology does, but it’s all for the same reason: people in similar circumstances who want to find each other." – Ericka Hart
“My favorite part is the daily matching feature because it’s a low-pressure way to build your own little breast cancer bubble,” says Hart.
Using technology to learn more about breast cancer
Not only does the Breast Cancer Healthline app offer an opportunity to connect with other survivors, but it also features a designated tab that allows you to search articles reviewed by medical professionals. From lifestyle and news stories about diagnosis, surgery, treatment, mental health, and self-care, to information about clinical trials and the latest breast cancer research, there are plenty of articles to browse.
Plus, the app includes personal stories and testimonials from breast cancer survivors.
“I love having articles and related content in the same place as the networking and community. It’s a one-stop shop for all your emotional and treatment needs,” says Crollman. “The ability to have related articles and research at your fingertips all in one place also allows for a seamless navigation of the daunting cancer experience both during treatment and beyond.”
Having access to all this information right on your phone is a nod to the power and convenience of technology, notes Hart.
“Now, everybody has phones in their pockets and apps that can do everything — bring us articles, connect us to people both publicly and privately,” Hart says. “How we connect morphs as technology does, but it’s all for the same reason: people in similar circumstances who want to find each other.”
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here