Cancer can be a deeply lonely place and no one knows that better than people who have faced it.
"Everything changes. Your world crashes down," said Ken Metzger, 55, a Clarence husband and father who is eight years past his successful treatment for a rare form of skin cancer at the base of his tongue.
"We kind of suffered alone. We didn't know any better."
That loneliness -- and the sense of isolation, like Metzger's, that can result -- is the focus of a fledgling initiative by Roswell Park Cancer Institute that breaks new ground where cancer mentoring and support is concerned.
Called "CancerConnect," the project aims to bring together the hospital's cancer patients, along with caregiving families and interested others, into a warm and friendly circle of communication.
The Web-driven initiative, part of a national project that Roswell Park was the first to join, has been up and running for about four months now -- and has already garnered more than 200 users.
The site is accessible at www.cancerconnect.com/roswellpark. It is free of charge. Anyone may visit the site to read informational material and communicate with others, as long as they register with a user name and password.
"This is going to be an awesome site for people to use," said Metzger, who said he uses the new site frequently to reach out to comfort and mentor others dealing with the condition, using the sign-on name "KenMetz222."
At Roswell Park, administrators who oversee the "CancerConnect" project said they are proud that Roswell was the first cancer institute in the country to build an online community through the larger national "CancerConnect" Web project, which is run by OMNI Health Media out of Idaho.
"Roswell Park was the very first hospital to sign on," said Faith Addiss, a registered nurse who is patient education facilitator at the cancer center.
The reason Roswell chose to establish this sort of online community, according to hospital administrators, was simple: Community and support are not just helpful during a cancer diagnosis and treatment program -- they are necessary.
"I don't know of anything that is more important," said Addiss. "No matter how good an attitude you have, no matter how much family support you have, no matter whether you believe in a higher power or an inner power -- whatever -- you are going to have moments where you just feel overwhelmed."
"Here," said Addiss, speaking of the website, "you can let it all out, 2 4/7 . You can say things that you can't even say to your family and friends."
And by providing a link between cancer survivors -- people like Metzger -- and those currently struggling with the condition, the website can provide the kind of intimate and knowledgeable advice, tinged with hopefulness and optimism, that many current cancer patients crave.
"When it's somebody who has been there before, it's tremendously more helpful," said Addiss, of the support from survivors. "Being able to access all the members of this community ... is very powerful."
In addition, the Roswell Park forum and the larger national "CancerConnect" page (www.cancerconnect.com) offer reading material and resources designed to empower patients, families and others with tools, tips and information.
Sample topics covered on the Web forum include chemotherapy, spirituality and caregiving, and there are individual pages devoted to specific cancers.