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The Power of Online Communities of Support

By Kim Mitchell, 12/20/2016

“Every time I come here I remind myself that by doing so . . . somebody (myself included) might feel just a little bit less alone.” – Stephen Wheeler.

A recent Stat News article tells the story of Stephen Wheeler, a “shy man by nature,” who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010 and passed away over a year ago. Although his family knew he often visited the website Inspire, they did not initially understand the impact he had on others online.

After Stephen’s death, his online community reached out to his family. One member wrote, “Sometimes we never know what a difference we make in other people’s lives . . . I felt moved to write this so that your family and loved ones would know how very far your influence spread, and how you had changed lives.”

People often search for online health resources, and a growing number of websites are also creating outlets for support. Web-based communities like Inspire allow people to connect with others sharing similar experiences. They can turn to online communities to tell their stories and exchange information about their medical conditions and treatments. They’re building relationships that reach past their computer screens.

Stephen’s family keeps a part of him close by reading his words. Over 1,000 pages of discussion transcripts capture Stephen’s thoughts, emotions, and personality. His voice lives on in his online community and continues to provide support to people he never had the chance to meet.

Where can we create that kind of supportive online community? The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. By sharing stories about the conversations you have had with your loved ones, you can inspire or comfort those who turn to our online community in their time of need. We invite you to share your story and participate in this community; you never know the impact your voice will have.

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