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From Adversity to Innovation: How Cancer Inspired the Creation of a Virtual Healing Community

Marcia Donziger of MyLifeLine.org Credit: Marcia Donziger

Cancer knows no boundaries. In 1997, at the age of 27, I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. 

The initial diagnosis was a "benign tumor" on one ovary. When I asked my doctor if it could be cancerous, she seemed to think I was too young. Hours later, however, I woke up on a hospital bed after an emergency hysterectomy to discover that I had been diagnosed with stage IIIc ovarian cancer, and stripped of my dreams of motherhood.

Like the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year, I sought comfort and support from friends and family. I was fortunate to experience the overwhelming volume of concern from loved ones. After a while, I became physically unable to return calls and grew tired of repeating the same information time after time. My handicap intruded on my relationships. I felt guilty for not being able to reconnect with loved ones during a time of uncertainty.  

In 2003, I learned about a young woman who had just been diagnosed with cancer. Lori Arquilla was not the typical cancer patient; her resilience and prudence inspired me to challenge my capabilities. Through her own struggle to stay in touch with family and friends, Lori created a personal website, a single and central platform where family and friends could view and follow Lori's progress. Her support network expanded, and she found comfort in messages of love and care, countless prayers, and offers to help her family.

In the age of the internet, I found value in connecting with others via a personal website. It could ease some of the stress of communicating in times of crisis and channel positive energy towards healing. I wanted to extend this opportunity to all cancer patients. Thus, MyLifeLine was born.

I had gone through the perils of cancer and wanted to help provide healing for others. The passion to innovate new strategies of healing coupled with my entrepreneurial spirit translated into a thriving organization.

During times of crisis, it is only human to seek a hand to hold. As a non-profit organization, MyLifeLine's mission is to empower cancer patients and caregivers to build an online support community of family and friends through free personalized websites, where they can foster connection, inspiration and healing.

By tracking and sharing their progress virtually, those touched by cancer can feel safe and less overwhelmed and isolated during a period of insecurity. It's the power of emotional connections with day-to-day assistance that can see you through to more positive outcomes.

The possibilities are endless. Cancer patients can jumpstart their emotional healing process by connecting with people on a local and national level, asking for help with meals and chores, and receiving messages of abundance and care.

As of 2017, there are over 30,000 active people registered on MyLifeLine.org to give or receive support. MyLifeLine partners with organizations including the American Cancer Society and Cancer Support Community to provide social and emotional support services to all people affected by cancer.

The power of MyLifeLine is largely defined by the cancer patients and caregivers that have personalized their stories and given meaning to their journeys. Paige, a survivor of Squamous Cell Carcinoma – a form of tongue cancer where she lost her ability to speak – found healing in her own personal website, which she says was the only way to express herself and work through her emotions. Another user, Stephanie, has been living creatively with Metastatic Breast Cancer. By adopting a take-charge attitude, she found peace in having good people in her life.

Cancer is a brutal adversary. MyLifeLine exists to counteract the negativity through positive interactions, connections and community. 

About the author: Marcia Donziger, is the founder and executive director of MyLifeLine.org, a nonprofit organization that empowers cancer patients and caregivers to build an online support community through free personalized websites.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.