Cancer is such a personal journey that sometimes we think we need to go it alone. Some patients feel that no one quite understands their pain or anguish. Some think it’s their responsibility to shoulder the burden and spare their loved ones. Some are just alone, without family or close friends to support them on their journey.
However, for anyone who wants it, support is abundant. It’s just a matter of finding the right resource. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to hear anyone else’s story, know anyone else’s problems or share anyone else’s agony. All I wanted was to get through it. What I missed was knowing remarkable women who were dealing with my same issues and hopes and dreams. I missed the intimacy of laughing or crying with women who knew my song. What I tried to deny was that I was just like them: after the façade was stripped away, just another frightened woman hoping she would survive.
Now, I refer patients to numerous resources, only a few of which are listed here. There are thousands of support groups for individual cancers, often sponsored by hospitals, community services or religious organizations. Many are founded by survivors trying to use their experience to help others. Most have valuable information that can help make the situation better. Just search the Internet for your type of cancer and geographic location.
The pioneer in survivor support, The Wellness Community, recently merged with Gilda’s Club to form The Cancer Support Community in order to expand their highly effective programs. They address all kinds of cancer, serving survivors through nearly 50 community-based centers and 100 satellite locations worldwide. They offer a wide range of services to all people affected by cancer, including families, and it's all free. What I like about this group is that the programs are facilitated by professionally trained practitioners and oncology social workers or counselors. Go to www.cancersupportcommunity.org.
LiveSTRONG, the brainchild of Lance Armstrong, has a more energetic vibe that reminds us of Armstrong’s attitude about surviving incredible challenges. Although no support groups are offered, there are options for one-on-one support, clinical trials matching, help with treatment decisions and ways to join a political movement to, “make cancer a national priority.” One of the best tools for newly diagnosed patients is the LiveSTRONG Guidebook- which is free. This excellent, well thought-out guide offers information, resources and tips to help navigate the murky waters of the cancer world. It is available for shipping and handling costs at www.store-laf.org/gbj001.html.
The journey, whatever that means for you, is better when you are not alone. Whether you’re the supporter or the supported, visit a group or service and ask questions. You’ll be surprised at how comfortable you feel and how welcome you are once you reach out.