Each day thousands of people struggle with the realities of having cancer. They are often isolated, fatigued, and concerned about the next steps they should take.
Along with the care and support cancer patients receive from their medical team, more and more of them are finding relief and comfort from attending support groups.
Support groups allow cancer patients to offer each other helpful advice and tips on how to get through challenges such as chemotherapy. They also tell their personal stories, ask questions, and share the emotions of this often-tumultuous period.
Benefits of participating in a support group include:
- Sharing experiences
- Preventing isolation
- Exchanging information
- Lending support, encouragement, and hope
- Enhancing self-esteem
- Providing a cost-effective method of aiding cancer treatment
Besides the immediate emotional benefits of support groups, studies have shown that patients who attend them have a higher quality of life than those cancer patients who do not.
Patients in all stages of cancer treatment can benefit from involvement in a support group. "Newly diagnosed patients often feel isolated. Support groups can lend a feeling of normalcy and hope because they see other patients who have gone through the same thing," said Vicki Rocconi, RN, who facilitates support groups at John Muir Health.
Patients who have experienced cancer and its different treatments can continue to reap the rewards of support group involvement long after their cancer is in remission.
"Patients who are finished with treatment often keep going to a support group to help deal with survivor issues. And it also gives them a chance to help others who are just beginning the experience," said Rocconi.
Some patients fear that going to a support group will dampen their spirits as they hear frightening stories and see the everyday realities of cancer. However, just the opposite has proved to be true for many patients.
Support groups can fill a unique void in cancer patients' lives, and in fact boost many cancer patients' spirits and self-esteem. "(My support group) was the lifeline that I needed," said one cancer patient.
Patients often note that it is helpful to know that they are not alone in the battle against cancer and they are not the only ones who are experiencing certain side effects of treatment.
One cancer patient who attended a support group, said, "It was nice to learn about the unknown side-effects of treatment before they happened. It was nice to know that if something happened to me it wasn't strange and new."
It has been said that cancer doesn't happen to just one person — it happens to the whole family. Fortunately, the whole family can benefit from the support and encouragement found at support groups.
"Going to the support group helped to relieve my son's anxieties about my cancer, and it gave him information that helped him to deal with it," said another cancer patient, who attended a support group with her son.
Patients frequently face the struggle of knowing the best way to talk to their loved ones about their cancer. Attending a support group can help.
"Going to the support group helped me to have a more open dialogue with my family about my disease. It brought the cancer out in the open," another patient added.
Sometimes patients and a family member or significant other attend the support group together, but then break into smaller sessions where the patients and caregivers are not together. Both groups can feel free to talk about problems or concerns without fear of hurting their loved ones.
"The entire family benefits when all persons significant to the patient receive support," says Rocconi.
To find a cancer support group, John Muir Health offers these tips:
Talk with your doctor or nurse.
Contact the American Cancer Society, (925) 934-7640.