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Marci Waldman: The Net As Life-Line

Reese Witherspoon poses with the award she won for best actress in a musical or comedy for her work in "Walk the Line," at the 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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Most people recognize the Internet as a resource for obtaining information and communicating with others in today's high-tech world.

Four women who have battled breast cancer found that it became much more than just a resource; it became a lifeline of unconditional support for women who shared similar health concerns and fears.

The Early Show explores the stories of these four women and will arrange for them to meet in person for the first time in the six-part series, "The Cancer Connection."

The series begins with Marci Waldman's story; she is our unit manager.

"It was 2 o'clock in the morning and I was sitting and working at my computer. And I happened to lean forward, and the inside of my arm just brushed up against the side of my breast. And I just felt a lump. And I froze. I felt the right side again, and I literally spontaneously burst into tears, because I knew that it was cancer," says Waldman.

Nine biopsies produced negative results, but Waldman's worse fear was confirmed after a lumpectomy revealed that she had breast cancer.

"When I was first diagnosed, I knew nothing. What I thought I knew was wrong. Half the things I thought I knew were totally myths," she says.

Waldman received quality medical care, but she wanted more information than her doctors could provide. Like a growing number of patients, she turned to the Internet.

"The computer is your lifeline, because it's going to help you survive. And the thing that amazed me was the amount and scope of information that's out on the Internet," she says.

Waldman discovered a number of Web sites designed to educate and support breast cancer patients, but her favorite was breastcancer.org.

"My patients inspired me to start breastcancer.org because I knew that after you left the hospital, they're going home with all these questions that come up. And at night, on the weekends, women around the world have unanswered questions," says Dr. Marisa Wiess. She is a breast cancer specialist in Wynnewood, Pa. She started the Web site to empower patients during a critical time.

"In the last 10 years, the amount of information about breast cancer has more than doubled. The patient generally wants to feel like she's in charge of her own future. And she would like to make decisions. But she can only feel comfortable making those choices if she has the necessary understanding," says Dr. Wiess.

Her Web site staff goes so far as to reduce complex medical data to a fifth-grade reading level. But breastcancer.org offers more than just access to information. It's also a place where women can connect.

"We decided to start breastcancer.org so that we could create a virtual community - a safe place to connect with each other. Giving each other information, comfort and encouragement," she explains.

Waldman notes, "And what breastcancer.org gave me was a virtual support group. They were there all the time. And if I had posted something the night before, I had 15 or 16 responses that I could read."

Through this Web site, Waldman has met three other women in various stages of breast cancer treatment, and through shared emails they've formed an Internet support group.

"They told me Web sites to look into, and they told me what I would need to know to survive this part of my life. These women held me together every single day. Because I could spill my guts to them and I could tell them how scared I was. They could understand it like nobody else could because they were also scared," Waldman says.

Waldman says that the emotional support that she's received from the women she's met online has been vital to her recovery, and that together they are helping each other heal.

"They've given me something that I never thought that I would have, which is not just knowledge, it's the love of a stranger. And they support you and they tell you that it's going to be OK, and you believe them, not just because you want to believe them, but because they've been there. And they've had the experience that you're going through and if they can make it, you can make it," Waldman says.

Each day this week, The Early Show will be introducing a different member of Waldman's Internet support group and on Friday of this week, all four women will meet for the first time in our studio here in New York.