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Overcoming the diagnosis

RVC resident creates social network for cancer fighters

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In 2008, when she was 33, Rockville Centre resident Mailet Lopez was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.

While she was being treated, she met a woman named Rita, who was undergoing treatment herself. Rita had been fighting cancer for years, and gave Lopez advice that no one else could. “She was able to give me guidance for treatment,” Lopez said. “All that information was so helpful, it gave me hope. It gave me some semblance of control over this journey I was going to be taking.”

After months of treatment, Lopez recovered. Afterward, people came to her for advice on how to handle cancer diagnoses. Her business partner, Anthony Del Monte, noticed, and suggested that Lopez start a blog to help others. Since the two owned Squeaky, a web design company, Lopez thought they could do better than that.

That’s how IHadCancer.com was born.

Lopez created a social network for cancer survivors to connect with one another and offer the help that comes only from those who are going through the same struggle.

“Everyone sees [the website] as this great resource for providing help,” she said. “No matter how great a husband you might have or best friends or a great family, unless they’ve been in your shoes, it’s really hard to understand.”

Initially launched in 2011, IHadCancer.com was relaunched this week. The idea is simple: People who are fighting cancer, who have beaten it or who are helping cancer patients can sign up and communicate with one another. Users can search for others by location or type of cancer.

“It’s pretty much for anyone who’s involved in that cancer journey,” Lopez said. “What we were finding out is that we have a lot of survivors. Their experiences are what fighters are going to be needing.”

The IHadCancer network, she said, is some 250,000 strong, including participants on other social media sites. Lopez, who came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1980, said she built the site to make sure people who have the disease know they’re not alone.

The redesigned site puts an added focus on helping survivors deal with life after cancer. Lopez said that cancer fighters want to hear their doctors say they’re cured. “We want to hear those words,” she said. “But then it’s like, wait a second; now what?”

After growing accustomed to a life dominated by cancer, many survivors feel lost afterward. IHadCancer can help them get their lives back on course. “There’s no other network out there for people dealing with life after cancer,” said Emily Giegerich, the website’s director of communications. “We’re there for those people.”

To help further the cause, Lopez is launching a social media campaign, #lifeafterdiagnosis. People with cancer are encouraged to share their stories, some through the blog at IHadCancer.com.

“The same way Rita was able to help me, I wanted to do that for whoever I possibly could,” Lopez said. “We have this great blog where people are sharing their experiences. And I’m able to relate to a lot of that. Reading it privately assures me I’m not alone in this journey, which is what we’re trying to do.”