The term “psychosocial” is a psychological description of the way we relate to and interact with our social environment. It is the sense of self that we acquire though life experiences – from exploration of our environment as children through our daily interactions in adulthood. And it is constantly reshaping itself through the span of our lifetime.
When people experience a tragic event, psychosocial support is a way of helping victims emotionally cope with the disaster. It can help survivors gather resources to deal with their immediate problem and can proactively foster resilience to the aftershocks that have yet to occur.
Cancer is a catastrophic event in anyone’s life. Not only is it emotionally and physically painful, it forces us into abrupt, urgent awareness of our mortality. Cancer is a harrowing experience and the patient’s psychosocial impact is profound. Once confident and optimistic, some people become fearful and depressed. Some lose their sense of self-determination because their diagnosis was unexpected and they believe their future is out of their control.
For ovarian cancer survivors, psychosocial support is absolutely critical. Ovarian cancer, most often diagnosed late-stage, is disproportionately deadly. Therefore, survivors are trying to “beat the odds” and often feel that they are in a daily battle to stay alive. This aggressive disease is so hard to control that patients experience multiple recurrences, each nastier than the last, so their calendars become inundated with blood tests, scans, and physical exams.
This is where psychosocial support plays such a critical role. The most common is in-person survivor support group meetings where others with similar experiences share their stories, exchange hints or resources, and gain understanding and fellowship. Hospitals and cancer care organizations offer survivor seminars that help foster a supportive and compassionate community as well as educating survivors and their support circle. Some less common cancers, like ovarian, are often served by online groups, such as Inspire, on the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website, that “connects patients, families, friends and caregivers for support and inspiration.”
Whether in person or online, it is important to find qualified and monitored forums to assure that the group is safe, secure and following proven methods of psychosocial wellness practices.
For those of us dealing with cancer, it’s important to recognize that our sense of self has been distorted by a disease. In order to regain and restore our “selves” we may need to seek out a forum where we can relate to a community in ways that are constructive, productive and life-affirming. Most of us could use a map to discover joy, peace and purpose in this new reality. A support group may be just the thing.