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Internet helps families cope with illness

CaringBridge is a free service, supported by donations, that has provided 15,000 personalized Web pages for families involved in prolonged medical treatments.

For two weeks out of every eight weeks, Angela Karp travels to New York City so that her 9-year-old son, Andrew, can be treated for a serious form of cancer called neuroblastoma.  Her husband, Tom Karp, stays at home in Minnesota with the couple's two older children, Nick and Emily.

Whenever she can, usually exhausted after a day’s treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Angela Karp writes a journal on an Internet site provided by an organization called CaringBridge.

Angela Karp reads aloud as she types on the computer, “It was a good day today …”

Back at home, Tom Karp reads out loud to the kids the words that she writes. “What I am realizing about Andrew is the busier I can keep him, the less he can focus on the pain.”

The family does not just use the site to talk to one another. Hundreds of friends and relatives around the world read updates about Andrew’s condition, view pictures of how he is doing, and post their own messages of cheer, hope and good wishes.

“There’s a lot of people who want to know how it’s going and you just can’t call everybody ... and start over with the story,” Angela Karp adds.

CaringBridge is a free service, supported by donations, started in 1997.  So far it has provided 15,000 personalized Web pages for families involved in prolonged medical treatments.  At least 61 million people have logged on.

Sona Mehring, a computer executive, initially set up CaringBridge for a friend who had a difficult pregnancy and premature child. Later she realized it could help many more people and began running it as a public service. “It’s a wonderful experience to be able to use the Internet in such a positive way,” Mehring says.

The Karps are definitely grateful for the connection as they struggle to save Andrew.