When someone is first diagnosed with cancer, it is often common for them to look online for information and advice to help them cope with a frightening and bewildering situation.
Virtual health forums can be a valuable source of resources about issues such as treatment and side effects. They can also allow people to provide each other with support and guidance gained through lived experience of the disease.
However, over-reliance on them can sometimes have an adverse effect on mental health at an already extremely difficult time.
Tracey Thompson from Ulverston was diagnosed with stage 1 grade 2 breast cancer in November 2022 after she began experiencing pain across her chest while exercising and at work.
She went to see her GP who sent her for tests as a precaution and, after scans and a biopsy, Tracey was told she had cancer that required urgent treatment. Lumpectomy surgery and radiotherapy successfully treated the cancer, however, after such a traumatic time, Tracy realised she needed some extra support.
“It was a terrifying time after my diagnosis. Life just seemed to stop and I had to give up work. I am also usually very active and couldn’t do any of my usual exercise or weight training.
“I felt like I was in no man’s land, so I started going on online women’s health forums. At the beginning I felt better when I was going on them as it felt like there was always someone there to listen to you and advice being offered. After a while, though, they began to get me down. There were a lot of negativity on there and I was obviously trying stay as positive as possible.”
Tracey’s mental health began to worsen, especially, as is often the case, she was reluctant to burden her family and friends with how she was feeling, emotionally. So, she got in touch with CancerCare and began weekly counselling sessions with Jacqueline Knight, a therapist based at our Barrow centre.
“It was great to be able to chat to someone who wasn’t emotionally invested in what I was going through and who wasn’t going to be shocked by what I was talking about. She made me realise I was trying to get my life back to normal too quickly and that I still had a lot of recuperating to do.
“She also saw that the forums were having a negative effect on me and taking my mind miles away from where it needed to be, so she was great at giving me perspective and helping me realise that they were making me feel worse. Jacqui was my safety blanket throughout that time,” said Tracey,
Over the weeks, Tracey’s mental well-being improved in leaps and bounds and she has returned to her job at a petrol station and resumed her passion for exercise. She is also looking forward to getting married to her partner Bri in September
“Bri was amazing during everything that happened and I can’t wait for the wedding. I am very happy. I can’t thank CancerCare and Jacqui enough for the help and support that got me back on track at such a difficult time,” said Tracey.
Jacqui said that while some people may find online forums helpful as a source of information and support, she urged caution:
When someone is first diagnosed it is natural to want answers, and, as a way of coping it can seem like a good idea to seek them from people who have been through something similar. However, online forums can sometimes, like in Tracy’s case, a negative psychological effect on people trying to cope with quite a devastating situation.
“Often, we have no way of really knowing the people on these forums and they may not always be in the best place, mentally and emotionally, themselves and their comments and advice may reflect that.”