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.