We often hear cancer specialists talk about the degree to which cancer affects everyone. They’re suggesting that the impact of cancer extends beyond the individual who has the disease. That’s why we believe the slogan No One Fights Alone® applies to everything cancer patients, their family members, and caregivers go through – from first diagnosis to treatment to survivorship.
Although each cancer patient has a personal support network (we hope they do), cancer support groups offer a different type of support. These unique cancer support networks bring people together through their shared experiences.
Tips for Patients Looking for Cancer Support Groups
Cancer Today Magazine featured an article that offers great advice for cancer patients interested in joining a support group. The writer is a breast cancer survivor and a licensed clinical social worker. Anyone evaluating support groups might want to consider these things.
- Schedule: Don’t assume that the notice you see about a cancer support group on a bulletin board at your doctor’s office means that the group is active. The same thing may happen when you find links to support groups through your treatment center’s website. There may be tons of online listings for local cancer support groups, but that doesn’t mean that they are active.
- Leadership: Schnipper stresses the importance of professional leadership – especially in cancer support groups for patients. Trained leaders know how to handle the range of intense emotions that come up during meetings.
- Group Focus: Look into the way that groups you are considering are organized. Schnipper notes that she has two groups for women with breast cancer. One is a support group for women with advanced stage breast cancer. The other group is for women who are undergoing post-surgical chemotherapy treatment. She explains that some groups are open to anyone with any type of cancer at any stage of the disease. While those groups have their advantages, they may not be helpful for patients who want and need the support of people just like them.
- Online: There are so many advantages to belonging to an online support group – especially if you feel too sick to leave the house or if you live in a more rural area. When you belong to an online group, you can count on having someone available day or night. As our own Linda Nielsen said, “Because I live in a small town, I would have had to travel quite a distance to find a group specifically geared to my needs. The online support system I was ultimately asked to join was absolutely perfect for me. I had the anonymity I was seeking and the ability to “talk” 24-7! This was most important to me. I did not have to wait for the third Thursday of the month to meet with a group in our local library. I could log on at any time and someone was sure to get back to me within a day.” Linda also went on to say, “What I needed was support from others who were either going through what I was or had gone through it. I needed advice on what to do with my bald head or helpful hints on dealing with chemo (ice chips!). I highly recommend online support systems – just find the right one for you.”
To find a group, contact your local American Cancer Society chapter or ask your health care professionals. They maintain a list of support groups, and you may be able to find information online.
Tips for Family Members and Caregivers Looking for Cancer Support Groups
When selecting a support group for family members or caregivers, consider these things.
- Commonalities: Find out about the backgrounds and lives of group members before you choose to join a group. If you are married, you may find the most support in a group that’s made up of other married people. If you are a working parent with kids, a group that’s made up of working parents who also have children will help you more than a group of retired people, or people who have never had kids.
- Membership: Consistency is important when it comes to support groups. Find out whether you must join a group to participate. Groups that require would-be members to join are made up of regular attendees. It is harder to continue discussions in a group that are open to anyone.
- Leadership: Professional leadership is a huge bonus in family-oriented support groups. This is particularly the case for children’s groups. A pediatric psychologist or social worker is trained to deal with all the fears, anxieties, and emotions that children have.
Take the time to find out what’s available in your community and on the Internet. Talking to other people who are going through the same thing takes the loneliness out of the fight – for both patients, their families, and their caregivers. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing a cancer support group. Find out what’s available, and trust your instincts. You’ll get the most out of a group when you know that you’ve found a new network of supporters.
Cancer support groups allow patients, family members and caregivers to meet other people who understand what they’re going through. It often marks the beginning of a life-long friendship between people who were brought together because of a shared bond. Friends and family are great, but one tends to put on a smile and stay positive around those closest to them. This is why support systems are so very important. It’s a chance to let your guard down.