Tuesday 29th September 2015
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Autumn 2015
The support provided by Macmillan’s Online Community is a vital lifeline that helps combat isolation and loneliness
‘It is such a comfort to not feel alone.’
I work on Macmillan’s Online Community and I see comments like this every day. The community is a support forum for people living with cancer, their loved ones, and people bereaved by cancer. For them, speaking to others in the same position can be a vital way to deal with their emotions.
Support from professionals is, of course, essential, but it’s only part of the picture. Professional support resources are not infinite and no professional can be there 24/7. In some cases, there’s no substitute for talking to someone who has been in the same position.
This peer support is vital, and it’s something people are increasingly accessing online. Macmillan’s Online Community is constantly growing, with around 15,000 posts every month. Those that post are only the tip of the iceberg – there are nearly 80,000 unique visitors to the site each month, suggesting that sometimes just reading other people’s experiences can help.
Our community can reach people for whom a face-to-face support group might not be an option. They may not physically be able to get to one, particularly if they are geographically isolated or can’t afford to travel far. Similarly, caring for someone with cancer can prevent people getting out.
The Online Community works on smartphones and tablets, so it’s available 24/7 from anywhere you can get online. It also offers anonymity, which many forum members find is essential for allowing them to open up about extremely sensitive topics.
With so many members and around 100 different groups, there’s a good chance of finding people with similar experiences, even if you have a rare cancer. There are groups for different cancer types, for carers, family and friends, bereaved people, cancer survivors and many more.
You might assume that most members would already be very confident in the online world. However, the typical age of our members is 45–65 and many of those are self-confessed technophobes.
The site is moderated by Macmillan, including some evening and weekend cover. This means inappropriate or abusive posts are removed and safeguarding issues can be dealt with or escalated to a professional. There is also a team of online volunteers – established members who give extra time to support others and help ‘newbies’ learn to use the site. All of this makes for a much safer and more supportive environment than you might find in some parts of the internet.
‘I’m just glad this is here. I used to be against modern technology, but I see now how helpful it can be.’
Online peer support communities like Macmillan’s will continue to play a growing role in helping people cope with the emotional impact of cancer.
If someone you’re supporting might benefit from joining, please direct them to Macmillan’s Online Community.
Senior Online Community Officer
Macmillan Cancer Support