TeenConnector – Where Canadian Teens with Cancer Connect

This week, my blog series will be focusing on several Canadian healthcare online social networks.  This is part 2 of 5.  The previous post of the series can be found here;

  • Upopolis; Social Media for Kids in Hospitals

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The featured Canadian healthcare social network for today is TeenConnector.ca , an online community for Canadian teens with cancer operated by The Childhood Cancer Foundation.   On this network, teens can connect via discussion boards and blogs.

I discovered this online community via a report on the Canada.com site.  Just before the holidays, I contacted Mary Lye, the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Childhood Cancer Foundation – Candlelighters Canada.  She spoke from the heart, because before joining this non-profit organization, she went through the heart-wrenching ordeal of watching her teen go through cancer and cancer treatments.  Luckily, her child is doing well these days, but Mary holds the memory close to her heart and is passionately doing everything that she can to help teens afflicted with cancer connect with one another.  Below are some of the highlights of our discussion.

Why TeenConnector.ca?

According to The Childhood Cancer Foundation’s data, approximately 1,500 Canadian children are diagnosed with cancer every year.  Of these, approximately 300 of them are teenagers.  Since these teens have various types of cancer, it is very difficult for them to find one another.

Moreover, a recent Ipsos Reid study (June 2009) states that;

“Over three-quarters (76%) of online Canadians teens aged 12-17 now have a social network profile, up from 50% in 2007.”

As such, social media provides an excellent medium for helping Canadian teens find one another and provide each other with the support that they need.

Connecting with one another is important because many teens do not want to talk to anybody about their disease because they are embarrassed, angry, and ashamed.  Therefore, by providing them with a private world of other teens who are going through, or have been through cancer and have survived it provides them with an outlet to reach out to somebody like them, whom they can relate with and trust.

What features does TeenConnector.ca provide to its members?

Since TeenConnector.ca is a private online community, I was given access to a demo version of the site, but did not have visibility of the members’ journals or discussions.

The features provided on the network consist of the following;

  • customizable profile, contact management (including friends, mentors and support team from The Childhood Cancer Foundation),
  • sharing of experiences via group discussions and journals,
  • event management (where members can accept or create events, and also add birthdays to their calendar),
  • access information (on applying for a scholarship, view information videos or glossary),
  • entertainment (play games, share videos, read news or design e-cards),
  • and e-mail and notifications from other members on the network.

When was it launched?

TeenConnector.ca is brand new as it was just launched in December 2009.

Prior to launching, a lot of preparation took place in order to ensure that the community would benefit its members.  The first step was to build up mentors onto the site.  Mentors are cancer survivors who went through their cancer diagnosis and/or treatment while in their teen years, so they understand firsthand the issues and struggles that are involved.  This first step was critical so that when teens actually came on looking for help, they would find a mentor waiting for them.  There are currently 15 mentors from across Canada with a variety of types of cancer experiences.

The second step was to build an educators’ website so that teachers can learn more about how to communicate with their students who are living with cancer.

Is it just for Canadian teens with cancer?

TeenConnector.ca is an online community just for Canadian teens who have been diagnosed with cancer.  It is a private online community, therefore teens decide who can access their information.

Can members remain on the network once considered in remission?

Yes.  Despite being in remission, the suffering from a cancer diagnosis and/or treatment does not just go away.  According to The Childhood Cancer Foundation, 70% of children who have cancer will have lifelong effects of the treatments which changes the way they live (heart problems, brain damage, limb loss, ‘chemo brain’, emotional issues such as grief, anger, resentment and disbelief).  TeenConnector.ca aims to provide lifelong support to its members.  The intent is also for some of these teens who remain active on the network to eventually become mentors for others.

What role do the sponsors play?

TEVA Novopharm has sponsored The Childhood Cancer Foundation with a $300,000 grant over a two-year period.  The programs that this funding is supporting consist of the educational site, an educational DVD about Leukemia, as well as TeenConnector.ca, all of which can be accessed through the main childhoodcancer.ca site.  The President of TEVA Novopharm, Barry Fishman, is a Board of Directors member for The Childhood Cancer Foundation.

When I asked David Windross, V.P. External Affairs at TEVA Novopharm, why TEVA Novopharm decided to sponsor the Childhood Cancer Foundation initiatives, including TeenConnector, here was his response;

“We participate in the Childhood Cancer Foundation initiatives, including  TeenConnector,  because the initiatives relate to one of our Corporate Values of Corporate Citizenship – we are in the business of producing high quality affordable generic medications and our work with the Childhood Cancer Foundation connects our corporation and our staff to a very important initiative that connects patients. We look forward to the success of the TeenConnector program and our continued work with the Childhood Cancer Foundation .”

JAAN Technologies set up the network and are still involved in supporting and updating it.

Brother Canada committed funding of Lauren’s role within the non-profit organization as well as 10 yearly scholarships totalling $50,000 per year for 3 years in a row.  Lauren is a coordinator as well as a mentor on the site.

Is the network promoted in hospitals?

The network is still new and the promotional activities are just starting.  The plan is to promote the TeenConnector.ca online community to hospitals, cancer camps, teen & survivor conferences, as well as colleges and middle/high schools.

As seen below, promotion cards were developed by Parul Musaddy.  These will be sent to all Canadian children’s hospitals.

Is there any monitoring or editing of the content posted by the members?

There is some supervision of the content on the public blogs and discussion boards.  For example, if a teen or mentor provides or asks for medical advice, or opinions on treatments, they would be contacted and asked to edit or remove their comment.  If no action is taken by the member, then JAAN technologies would be requested to remove the comment in question.

Are there any advertising or sponsorship opportunities on the teenconnector.ca network?

There is no advertising opportunity as The Childhood Cancer Foundation does not want their teen members to feel overwhelmed with additional information or influences.  However, organizations can sponsor the online network, and as recognition they will have their logo on the homepage of The Childhood Cancer Foundation’s website.  Note that since TEVA Novopharm is already a major sponsor, another generic pharma company would not be allowed to sponsor as well.

Interested in discussing sponsorship or partnership opportunities with TeenConnector.ca, then please contact Mary Lye (mlye@childhoodcancer.ca), (416) 489-6440 ext.19 .

Also, there is currently a job opportunity for somebody who would like to help promote and support the organization.  Nope, we’re not talking about volunteer work.  This is an actual paid-job.  Contact Mary Lye for details.

DISCLOSURE: I have not been paid to write this article, and the organizations mentioned are not clients.

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Every day of this week, a Canadian healthcare social network (online community) will be featured on this blog.  Tomorrow, we will take a look at an online community for Canadian patients of all ages who are suffering from various cancers, where online educational events take place on a regular basis.  Come check it out.

Stay in touch,
Natalie

Connect with me on the following networks:
FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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