Finding Support When Facing Cancer


Having the support of family and friends is important if you have cancer, but sometimes nothing beats talking to someone who is in the same boat. Support groups provide an opportunity for people with cancer to share their feelings, talk about their concerns, and learn more about solving problems. Many people with cancer say that support groups provide them with a feeling that they are not alone.

There is evidence that support groups reduce traumatic stress symptoms, reduce other psychological symptoms and distress, help a person cope better, help provide solutions, and improve a person’s quality of life. Support groups are not appropriate for everyone, as some patients do not wish to share their personal thoughts with others. Individual counseling can help.

What kinds of groups are offered?
What kind of support group you attend is up to you. There are different types of groups. They can be open-ended, allowing anyone with cancer or their family members to attend, often for an indefinite period of time. They can be closed, organized for a prescribed period of time just for the same group of people, such as those with the same diagnosis, the same sex, the same stage of disease, or the same type of cancer treatment.

Support groups meet in different settings: a hospital, community agency, family service agency, or a person’s home. There are chat room programs on the Internet for people. Be sure that the chat rooms are from credible sites, such as the American Cancer Society, and that they have moderators.

Some groups are organized by cancer survivors themselves. Professionals, such as oncology social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric or oncology nurses, or clergy, organize others. Professionals should be licensed in their respective fields and be skilled in leading group discussions.

Groups can be organized by topic, meaning different issues will be discussed each week, or there can be a free-flowing agenda during which time participants discuss whatever they like. Some topics that frequently come up in support groups are the impact of the cancer diagnosis, the sense of loss and grief, emotional reactions, relationships with family and friends, and the questioning of the meaning of life.

Regardless of which group you attend, the group leader at your first meeting should discuss confidentiality. You should feel free to discuss your concerns with others and know that what is discussed will remain confidential. Some people feel more comfortable than others, sharing their thoughts and feelings in a group setting.

In addition to support groups, there are other means of support available to people with cancer:

•Home health nursing services
•Social services that provide counseling and financial assistance
•Nutrition services that provide meals or allow you to talk with a registered dietitian
•Rehabilitation services provided by physical and occupational therapists
•Spiritual services from chaplains or religious leaders in the community

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