Both women met online on Ihadcancer.com, a website that works as a virtual community bringing cancer patients, survivors and their families together. The site was created and launched in July of 2011 by Cuban American, Mailet Lopez, 33, a successful graphic designer from New Jersey who survived Stage 2 breast cancer, herself, a few years back.
Lopez realized the need for this type of social network while battling the disease, so she set out to create a safe haven where survivors could build relationships and bond over the common hardships of their journey.
For Fortune, as well as, for Knox, and like many others who have joined the I Had Cancer community, this platform has provided much-needed hope.
“You’ve got someone else who can understand and appreciate the crazy thoughts,” says Fortune.
“One of the things I love about IhadCancer.com is that there is something about sitting on that computer and typing away that message. Being able to connect with someone else that is also going through a similar experience without having multiple eyes on you as it would be if you were to open up in front of an actual support group. That is such a powerful thing,” she adds.
The women met on a message board in September of last year and have since connected with each other every other week, either via chat or through email.
With each message – a little encouragement, but sometimes it’s the hard stuff they discuss.
“It was a blessing,” says Knox; the type of place where she could vent and feel human again.
Knox was diagnosed in December of 2011 and received multiple diagnoses before getting the right one. It was heartbreaking, she shut down; until her mother suggested she join the I Had Cancer community and she met Elizabeth.
She remembers how the diagnosis first turned her life upside down but then how comfortable and safe she began to feel at the hospital. The hospital became her second home, she says. Knox remembers telling Fortune at one point that she didn’t want to leave it and ultimately, that this thought was starting to make her feel crazy.
“But having someone who can share these emotions with you is the most comforting thing you can offer someone with cancer,” says Knox. “To know that you’re not alone, that you’re not losing it.”
Or perhaps that it’s OK to be the “Queen of the scarves,” or to start your own business, as was the case for Fortune. Fortune finally got the courage last year to follow her dream of starting her own communications company and she says she couldn’t be happier.
“Cancer changes you completely and it changes your outlook on life,” she says.
“It changed my outlook on life and I am so grateful for what I went through. It even changed my relationships,” she adds.
Knox is officially cancer-free but Fortune is still fighting and awaiting a stem cell transplant this Fall. Ultimately for both; however, the I Had Cancer community remains a lifeline. They hope to meet one day in person.
“While family and friends are extremely supportive, it’s hard to talk about the bad but this community has been the ultimate outlet to connect with someone who understands,” says Fortune.
By Being Latino contributor, Vanessa A. Alvarez