Support groups can have many benefits. You may feel better about yourself, find a new life focus, have better pain control, make new friends, improve your mood, cope better with your cancer, learn more about cancer, and better deal with the needs of others in your life.
Support groups can:
- Give you a chance to talk about your feelings and work through them
- Help you deal with practical problems, such as getting to or from doctor visits, or problems at work or school
- Help you cope with side effects of treatment
The number one reason people join a support group is to be with other people who have "been there"—not because they do not receive support from friends and family. Some research shows that joining a specific type of support group improves quality of life and enhances survival.
Is a support group right for you?
For some people, hearing about others' problems can make them feel worse. "I went to the [group] meetings for a while," one woman reports. "I would come out and be so depressed. Why? Because you think you're sick, and you hear the stories; they're like horror stories. I cried enough at home, and I didn't want to go to a group and cry more."
Could a support group help you? If you answer yes to most of the questions that follow, you may want to try one out. To find groups that meet near you, ask your doctor, nurse, social worker, or local cancer organization.
- Do you enjoy being part of a group?
- Are you ready to talk about your feelings with others?
- Do you want to hear others' stories about their cancers?
- Would you like the advice of others who have gone through cancer treatment?
- Do you have helpful advice or hints to offer others?
- Would reaching out to support other cancer survivors make you feel better?
- Would you be able to work with people who have different ways of dealing with cancer issues?
- Do you want to learn more about cancer and post-treatment issues?
Support groups and patient seminars at Dana-Farber
Choosing a support group
If you are thinking about joining a support group, here are some questions you may want to ask the group's contact person:
- How large is the group?
- Who attends (survivors, family members, types of cancer, age range)?
- How long are the meetings?
- How often does the group meet?
- How long has the group been together?
- Who leads the meetings: a professional or a survivor?
- What is the format of the meetings?
- Is the main purpose to share feelings, or do people also offer tips to solve common problems?
If you are not happy with a support group you join, you may want to try finding another group with different members or concerns. Support groups vary greatly, and one bad experience doesn't mean they are not a good option for you.
If a support group does not interest you, think about finding another cancer survivor with whom you can discuss your cancer experience. Many organizations can pair you with someone who had your type of cancer and is close to your age and background.
Source: National Cancer Institute, Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer