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Cancer Support Groups – The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful

By HERWriter
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If you’re reluctant to attend a cancer support group, I completely understand. When I was in chemo, after spending all week with other chemo patients, the last thing I wanted was to be around more sick people; I wanted to be with normal, healthy people who reminded me of what I was returning to when it was over.

So I avoided support groups. I could not imagine what value I would get from a cancer group and I certainly didn’t need their burden added to my own.

Since then, I’ve learned that support groups can be very helpful to survivors and family members. The best ones offer current information about coping with the disease. They teach patients to manage their situation and connect them to helpful resources. Many survivors gain strength as well as knowledge; being with others on a similar journey who understand what they are going through is a kind of acknowledgement of their struggle.

I attended my first support group when I was no longer in treatment and promoting my new book on surviving catastrophic illness. With many invitations to speak at support groups across the country, I got to experience many different groups – large, small; some good, some better. And now, as president of a local charity, I help lead our support groups. So, I’ve had the opportunity to view cancer support groups from many different angles . . . an opportunity I missed when I probably needed it most.

Not all groups will fit everyone, but there’s probably one for every need. The best ones offer a place where people come together to make their journey better. They offer tools to help cope with the disease and education to keep people informed about relevant developments. Good support groups bring in experts to speak on medical specialties that patients don’t normally have access to. Great groups feel warm and inviting, literally embracing newcomers to a club of hope. Their message: Whatever happens, you are not alone.

After recovering from treatment, many people who attended support groups stop coming. They want to return to their normal life, but their normal has changed. They live in a new reality that looks like their old one but is changed in profound ways.

Add a Comment5 Comments

Annette, I am not a cancer patient, but I appreciate the glimpse into support groups anyway. I know that with my depression and anxiety, a support group was integral in finding my way back to me.

I think that the most important thing a support group gives a person is the feeling that they are not alone, that there are people who understand -- both on the good days and the bad. Just because a person doesn't want to NEED that support group forever doesn't mean they can't truly benefit from it in the moment.

Thanks so much for writing. What you say is true for other kinds of support groups as well, I know.

November 30, 2009 - 8:00am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Thanks, Annette - That's a great website! Pat

November 27, 2009 - 3:50pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Hi Annette - I've been considering joining some support groups, and was glad to find your article. What I take away from it is that support groups have different personalities, just like people, and you need to check them out to see if there's a fit and find the one that's best for you as an individual. Thanks so much for your perspective, it was very helpful. Take good care, Pat

November 26, 2009 - 5:37pm
HERWriter (reply to Pat Elliott)

Pat, I'm so glad this was useful. I've met some amazing women who are evolving the idea of the "support" group into "success" groups, dealing with life after cancer in productive and bold ways. Please let me know if I can help. You can contact me directly through our website: www.ocaz.org.

November 26, 2009 - 7:52pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thanks. Those are good points. Another benefit of a support group is the value of any women’s or other collective, when you pool your experiences and learn how others have used different coping strategies and problem-solving techniques that, in your despair, had never occurred to you.

I think that one way that women find that sense of meaning in participating in those mutual help groups, is that the groups offer us an opportunity to help others, in a way that no one else can, by virtue of our “having been there.” At a time that your sense of self esteem and self worth may be at its lowest, you suddenly find that you can actually help others “in the same boat”, whether it be by just nodding your head in understanding when another is telling their similar story, or offering insight into a technique you have found helpful in better coping with one aspect of your situation.

For those women who want to give a “support group a chance,” there are some local non-profit self-help group clearinghouses that can aid them in finding or start a group. If interested, see the listing at the American Self-Help Group Clearinghouse website: www.selfhelpgroups.org

August 21, 2009 - 9:22am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.