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mesothelioma chemotherapy

Cancer Support Groups – Getting Help

Almost every day of the week, small cancer support groups comprising of individuals who are diagnosed with cancer, recovering from it or dying of it, come together for camaraderie and mutual support.

Group members usually start out as strangers, but many develop bonds as close as family. These close bonds develop overtime as group members strive to cope up with the cancer, its side effects, its treatment and range of emotions that accompany it.

What can be expected from Support Groups

A cancer support group is very different from other types of support groups, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous. The difference is because the latter type of support groups seek to provide mutual support to help members cope up with common problems and make changes in behavioral patterns that may be contributing to the problem. Cancer support groups do not seek to achieve behavioral changes and are basically meant for emotionally healthy individuals affected by cancer-related stress.

Cancer experts, health care professionals and even cancer patients opine that cancer support groups can provide respite to members from the tough routines such as doctor office visits, diagnostic tests, surgical procedures, and hospital stays. For instance:

  • You can laugh or weep, or just unload, unwind or vent without feeling guilty or shameful.
  • You can discuss your problems and issues with more openness, which you may feel uncomfortable sharing with others, for example, your children, spouse or your doctor.
  • You can share your deepest cancer-related fears and frustrations, fully knowing that other members are facing the same issues and will be able to empathize with you.

Based on individual cases and the ground-breaking “group therapy” work done by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., the existentialist psychiatrist, it can be said that support groups provide hope and infuse a sense of mutual altruism. Moreover, it can boost your self-esteem, which can take a hit in case you have contracted a disease that can leave physical scars and even lead to death.

A cancer diagnosis can bring about feelings of loneliness and alienation, but members of cancer support groups quickly start to feel needed, accepted and important. The words used – “support” and “group” basically imply that you are not alone.

Where can one find Support Groups?

There are a number of hospitals and medical centers that run support groups meant for cancer patients. One can also find support groups run by certain disease-specific cancer organizations, for instance, the national Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Support groups offered by this organization are meant for individuals who have leukemia or have been diagnosed with other types of blood-related conditions.

ACS support groups: According to Greer, there are thousands of cancer support groups that are organized, run and facilitated by the ACS through its local and state affiliates. Cancer support groups run by the ACS are free. Support group members meet on various days of the week at the agreed time. The meetings are organized at various places such as ACS meeting rooms, clinics, hospitals, civic organizations, churches and community centers.

The Cancer Survivors Network: This network was launched by the ACS as its first web-based, online cancer support group in 2001. The website has about 9,000 registered users and is known as the Cancer Survivors Network. The website, with advanced safeguards that ensure confidentiality, helps users design a custom support group to suit individual needs. For instance, you can use chat rooms to create your own private network.

The ACS phone network: If you don’t have access to a computer or Internet, you can call toll-free number (877) 333-HOPE to get help. This can be described as the telephone version of ACS’s Cancer Survivor Network. It is meant for individuals who may be living in far-flung areas, are too sick or simply not in a position to attend the meeting of a cancer support group. The phone network offers hope and support to individuals whose lives may have been affected by cancer. Topics that are discussed include a variety of true experiences and personal viewpoints of individuals living with cancer.

The Wellness Community: This is another key organization that runs support groups and offers related services for a large number of cancer patients. This non-profit enterprise was founded almost 20 years earlier in Santa Anna, Calif. by Harold Benjamin to help his wife. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and was not able to get adequate psychological support that she and her family members needed.

As of now, The Wellness Community has increased its network size to include 19 facilities spread out over 25 locations across the United States. Each facility organizes cancer support group meetings on a weekly basis and offers educational programs and other related services as well to compliment conventional cancer treatment and clinical trials. Gilda Radner, an actress-comedienne, who died in 1989 due to ovarian cancer, joined the Wellness Community as a member and championed its cause.

On what basis is membership determined?

Cancer support groups can comprise of several different members or just a dozen or more individuals per group. Support groups are often created using a common denominator, for instance:

Type of cancer: There are some support groups that focus only on a particular type of cancer, for example, lung cancer, colon cancer or bladder cancer. These groups may inherit gender-specific characteristics by default. It is likely that a cervical cancer group will only have females whereas a prostate cancer support group will be meant for men. However, it is always possible for these groups to offer help and support to spouses, family members or those providing care to the patient.

Stage of cancer: For some groups, membership is determined on the basis of the current status of your cancer experience – are you someone who has been newly diagnosed and has just started receiving treatment? Are you into your recovery phase after undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy? Have you been able to make a complete recovery to be deemed as cancer-free? Or is it that you are terminally ill and need help to cope up with the tough emotional and psychological issues related to death and dying?

Age: For some support groups, the age of an individual is as important a membership criterion as the type of cancer that afflicts each member. For instance, there are support groups that are run specifically for children and teens (which may or may not include parents or family members), whereas others may be meant only for adults or the elderly.

More on cancer support groups.


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