A local startup that creates social networks for people managing chronic health conditions has launched a new one today for women facing breast cancer.
MyBreastCancerTeam (MyBCTeam) started beta testing with 50 San Francisco women in June and has grown quickly to over 1100 women since then.
They include those who have just been diagnosed with the disease to those many years out of treatment.
The network comes from MyHealthTeams, which last year successfully established My AutismTeam as a social network for parents of children with autism. That network has grown to include over 28,000 people in North America.
Both the autism and the breast cancer networks help people facing difficult choices and emotions connect with others enduring similar circumstances.
“We interviewed lots of people before launching either site,” says MyHealthTeams co-founder and CEO Eric Peacock, “and asked them, ‘What did you do after the diagnosis?’
“Their answer was ‘I went home and Googled it like never before.’ Next, they all had the same instinct – to find others dealing with the same disease and connect with them.”
“There are awesome social networking platforms out there like Facebook but there wasn't anything for people with serious health problems,” adds co-founder and CMO Mary Ray.
The autism network started out with 30 families in San Francisco. Part of the network’s appeals is that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) covers a large number of disorders, and the network helps match families of kids of a similar age, with a similar diagnosis, and at a similar stage of treatment.
“What's inspirational to us is parents sharing their daily trials and little victories,” says Ray. “Like the woman who posted, ‘My eight-year-old son spoke his first word today!’ People here get that.”
Members of the networks, which are free, can add the names of their care providers to their “team,” and rate how effective they are. In the case of the autism network, this service helps other parents find providers and learn about novel treatment techniques for ASD, which remains a mysterious and frustrating set of conditions for doctors to treat.
Breast cancer, which hits one in eight women in the U.S., often is treatable, but can wreak havoc on women on many levels, including many self-image issues. Features on MyBCTeam include ways for women to get reassurance from others, by asking and answering questions, posting photos, share emotional ups and downs and offer “hugs.”
“They get a lot of perspective and validation here,” says Ray. “It is a hopeful point to learn that another person has made it through this. And people feel good when they can reassure others.”
With both the autism and breast cancer networks, members choose to post lots of photos, as is true with most other networks like Facebook and Pinterest. On MyBCTeam, for example, one woman has posted a series of photos of 17 different head scarves she’s worn after that treatments that caused her hair loss.
As a company, MyHealthTeams is still a small operation – “four and a half” people, with seed funding of $1.75 and an office in SoMa. The two networks now open are web-based but mobile apps are under development.
“The people on our networks spend so much time in waiting rooms and cars,” notes Ray, “so mobile is huge for them.”
MyHealthTeams will also be launching networks for other chronic conditions in the future.
“Five years from now we hope if you have any kind of chronic condition that your doctor will recommend that you visit our sites,” says Peacock. “Our technology makes it easy to launch new team sites, but we take the time upfront and put great care into doing it right.”
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