Should I Join a Support Group?
If you have just learned about your cancer diagnosis, you may be feeling too numb to think about what you need to manage the stress and anxiety that naturally comes with diagnosis and treatment. Dealing with the feelings and changes cancer can bring can be lonely even when you are surrounded by loving and supportive people. Talking to someone may be the first step in helping you cope with the uncertainties ahead.
Over the last 25 years there has been extensive research on the positive effects of support groups as a method of coping with cancer, improving quality of life, and in some studies — even increasing survival. Research has shown that support groups help reduce the three most significant stressors associated with cancer: unwanted aloneness, loss of control, and loss of hope. In fact, research conducted at the Cancer Support Community has shown that people who participate in support groups, either face-to-face or online, report significant decreases in depression, increased zest for life, and a new attitude toward their illness.
The Cancer Support Community knows how important finding a supportive community can be. Throughout our nationwide centers and online, we help hundreds of thousands of people each year connect with others, learn vital information about diagnosis and treatment, and find hope.
Look around your community and online to see if you can find one that’s right for you. There are times when it is beneficial for a couple or the whole family to sit down with a cancer counselor to talk about relationship or family issues related to the diagnosis and treatment.
If you join and do not find one helpful, try another. A support group can become a lifeline to information, support and encouragement through good times and bad. Most support groups are free-of-charge and meet on an ongoing basis in your community.
Types of Support Groups
All support groups are not the same. There are many different types of support groups that provide emotional support for cancer. Some are professionally facilitated; some are facilitated by fellow cancer survivors. Some groups are disease-specific (breast cancer, colorectal cancer, etc); age or gender-specific (young adults, men, women, etc); and some are time-limited (six week series for newly diagnosed breast cancer, etc). You can also ask your doctor if there is an oncology social worker, psychologist, nurse or chaplain at the cancer center or doctor’s office available to talk with you or your family. Ask other family members, friends or fellow patients in the waiting room if they are familiar with any cancer support organizations in your area.
What if A Support Group Is Not For Me?
Support groups are not for everyone, however. Individual counseling offers patients one-to-one time with a mental health professional who is expert in helping people express thoughts, fears, and emotions. If you feel you could benefit from individual counseling, check with your doctor for a referral to a specialist in cancer counseling. Your oncologist, oncology social worker or local community support organization should be able to provide you with a list of qualified professionals in your area. Since there is a generally a charge for private counseling, you may want to check with your insurance company to determine what services and providers are covered under your plan.