Dan Davies 23 Archive

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This article was written on 27 Jan 2007, and is filled under CLIC Sargent, Copy writing, Guardian Society, Net Analysis, Website analysis.

Net Benefits

Ghost written for Professor Gordon McVie on Guardian Society website.

The web is at the centre of a young cancer patient’s world. Professor Gordon McVie reports.

Cancer comes just after pornography, apparently- that is in the popularity stakes for internet queries. But numerically most of those visits are related to adults with cancer. Interestingly, research has shown that the questions come from friends and relatives of cancer patients, rather than patients themselves. But what about children and young people with cancer? What use do they make of the web? And who provides for their needs?

Anyone who knows anything about the Internet realises that a site’s success depends on its capacity to create a community which not only communicates via the site but also is responsible for collectively maintaining it. A site’s relevance and strength depends on the number of people who can claim ownership of this little part of cyberspace and keep it tidy.

Larger corporations and organisations have had difficulty adapting to this way of thinking, either they develop a site which is unwieldy and difficult to maintain internally, or they strip it down to a simple ‘shop front’ site which merely acts as a superhighway billboard.

For the charity sector, particularly the cancer charities who already invest heavily in counselling and support networks, change has been slow. To their detriment, decisions are often made by consensus and subsequently, tried-and-tested methods of support are preferred. The fact remains that once the right system is in place, the cost can be a fraction of the price involved in increasing capacity elsewhere.

The added bonus is that, by and large, these sites can also be self-run. This week, the academic journal Cancer published an article by the University of Southern California: “Assessing the health care needs of adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors.” The prevailing argument was that support from fellow cancer survivors can be more beneficial to their recovery than support from their friends and family.  

According to Dr Zebrack, lead author of the study “Health professionals and survivors value highly the support of family and friends. However, meeting young people who share a common experience becomes an opportunity for young adult cancer patients and survivors to address common concerns.”

CLIC Sargent, the leading children’s cancer charity has listened and has recently re-launched its website for children and young people with cancer www.clicsargent.org.uk). Once a user has registered, they can not only pose or answer questions on their forum – but they are also able to keep a diary online and provide tips for other users. I suspect that a significant amount of the user uptake will be by children and young people, though parents might learn a good deal by sneaking a glimpse of the action!

The Cancer report also reveals the necessity of interaction and inclusiveness of a cancer patient with their friends and family; increasing the chances of a quicker and more successful recovery. However, as we all know, treatments for children’s cancer often mean long periods of time in hospital, in addition to being house bound in a recovery home, or their own home. This is where I believe the use of the internet is not just important to a child – it is imperative.  

By the way, also launched this week was www.thesmileshop.co.uk where you can do some ethical Christmas shopping, and support the charity’s work. £523 pays to kit out a teenager’s bedroom in a CLIC Sargent ‘home from home’ which in addition to the usual decorative elements – also includes a computer and internet connection. It would be nice not to have children being treated for their cancers throughout the festive season, but sadly the “Social Hub” for many will be virtual again this year…

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