The many ways to share bad news
After her breast cancer diagnosis in December, Ederlen Casillas of Downey found herself overcome by more than just her cancer treatments.

"Trying to communicate with family and friends was starting to feel overwhelming," she says. "It's an emotional topic, and discussing it repeatedly can be exhausting. Sometimes you really can't communicate as clearly as you want to."

At her cousin's suggestion, Casillas set up a Web page with Caring Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides free Web sites for people facing a serious illness. The page allows her to share information, photos, links and updates with people she has authorized to access it.

As electronic forms of communication such as personalized Web pages, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and blogs have gone mainstream, more and more people are using them to share medical news and updates. When the news is especially shocking or difficult, electronic communication may give the deliverer relief from the emotionally fraught task of telling the story over and over.

And sharing news this way can be a fast and efficient way to mobilize support.

"It gets the word out quickly and lets people know why you're out of pocket," says Lisa Gualtieri, an adjunct professor in the health communication program at Tufts University School of Medicine. She and her colleagues recently conducted a survey-based study examining how patients with chronic disease use blogs to document their journey.

But these same forums can be a double-edged sword for recipients, who, though grateful for the information, may be unsure of the appropriate way to respond.

But there no hard and fast rules on either end.

Givers of Information

"It's been a great coping mechanism for me. It's very therapeutic," says Casillas. "I feel empowered, because it gives me a sense of control. I have an avenue to explain what's going on."

In addition to a narrative about her diagnosis and updates on her treatments, Casillas includes links to accurate information about her cancer and treatment so that people don't go searching the Internet and turning up information that might not be relevant.

Developing that sense of control can be crucial, Gualtieri says, especially at a time when patients feel out of control of their bodies.

Electronic communication also gives people the chance to craft their message, carefully thinking through how they want to say it, she adds.

Online forums can empower loved ones too.

WhatFriendsDo.com allows caretakers or friends to coordinate efforts to help someone in a health crisis. "We're a 'take action site,' " says founder Aimee Kandrac.

Lee Dworshak used the site to organize support for his friend Marty Anderson, a Lomita resident who had just lost his legs and needed help adjusting to a wheelchair.

"This website was the perfect answer," Dworshak says. "It allows you to do everything — gather a support team together, send out updates, schedule rides for him, coordinate help."

WhatFriendsDo.com also provides the option of linking to a PayPal account to accept online donations for the person in need, and Dworshak was able to raise about $3,400 to buy Anderson a computer, pay some rent and cover other expenses.

Getters of Information