Learn About Cancer Support Groups

Finding the right cancer support group can often seem like an overwhelming task during an already trying time. However, finding an outlet to help manage the myriad of new emotions that can flood your mind after receiving a cancer diagnosis can be very empowering. Cancer support groups come in many shapes and sizes, but all have one thing in common - they aim to help cancer patients cope with the trials and tribulations of treatment.

Shock, disbelief, loneliness, sadness, and fear are just a few of the emotions that can emerge following a cancer diagnosis. Attempting to manage these emotions alone can create feelings of isolation that lead to increased anxiety and depression. While friends and family can be understanding, some patients find that it may feel strange or uncomfortable to share their cancer related fears to those closest to them. This is especially true if friends and family have not experienced cancer themselves, or might have experienced a different type of cancer.

Everyone handles a cancer diagnosis and responds to treatment differently. Some individuals may not experience as many (if any) negative emotions. However, diagnosis and treatment can be busy and stressful because of the toll that it takes on the body both physically and mentally. Talking to others who can relate to the situation can help to reduce this stress.


Types of Cancer Support Groups

When finding a support group, you will want to first consider the different types of groups available.

Peer-led support groups are run by the members of the group. The group members typically elect or appoint a few select individuals to help manage the operations of the group, such as arranging meeting times and places. These individuals have undergone or are currently undergoing treatment.

Professional-led support groups are run by trained professionals such as counselors, psychologists, or social workers. These individuals facilitate conversations among members and act as a mediator or sounding board for group members. These professionals may or may not have undergone cancer treatment in the past, but are trained to mentor group members dealing with cancer related stressors.

Informational support groups offer support in an educational setting through lecture style meetings. Professionals such as doctors, nurses, or researchers are often featured as speakers at group meetings to offer members insight into the cancer world. This type of group helps patients to better understand what cancer is and how it will effect them in order to better cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Even though these meetings are usually set up in more of a lecture style, members often find support within each other by socializing before and after the meetings to discuss what the speaker talked about.

Online support groups create a type of network that allows members to interact from the comfort of their own home. These groups are great for people who may be too weak to travel. They often operate message board or chat room style, allowing individuals to connect both one on one, as well as pose questions to the group as a whole for feedback. This is also a great option for people who might not be comfortable socializing in person with strangers.


How to Choose a Cancer Support Group

It is important to consider your individual personality, as well as what you're looking for in a group. Are you a people person and want to share your own experiences with others? Or do you prefer to let others take the lead and soak up information to process on your own? Do you have specific questions about your cancer treatment? Or do you just want general information? Knowing yourself, your needs and your personality can impact the type of group you look for.

Support groups can target different audiences. They can be classified by cancer type, age group, or cancer stage. This allows patients to choose the best type of group based on their specific needs and wants. These targeted groups give patients a way to connect with people who are most like them and can offer a specific type of understanding. This is something that is so vital to creating a sense of community and belonging that many patients long for after being diagnosed.

Caregivers, spouses and children of cancer patients can also benefit from support groups. Groups specific to each of these types of individuals can help them cope with the feelings and emotions that come with a loved one being diagnosed with cancer. They help offer suggestions and ways to help their diagnosed loved ones, as well as create a community of support and a sounding board for airing frustrations and concerns.


How to Find a Cancer Support Group

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, most doctors will provide you with information about your type of cancer and what you can expect as far as treatment goes. They can also be a great source of information on finding support groups. Talk to your doctor or nurse about wanting to join a support group. Many times, your hospital or treatment facility will have a department or facilitator dedicated to helping patients find support and resources. This is a great way to find easily accessible, local groups.

Doing an internet search for cancer support groups will yield many results. It is often difficult to comb through these results and find groups specific to your cancer type or groups that are local to you. The American Cancer Society offers a specialized search engine that allows you to search for resources in your area by city and state or zip code, and filter by support group type. 

Two other search indexes that offer support group filters are Cancer.net and Cancer Support Community. These filtered sites can help reduce the amount of overwhelming group information that you might find with a basic Google or Yahoo search.

The health section of your local newspaper may also have information about local support groups. This is a great resource if you are looking for smaller groups close to home.

Talking to other cancer patients that you might run into at treatments or in the waiting room at your doctor's office can also be a great source of information. They may not only be able to direct you to a local group, but could also end up being a great individual to connect with on a person to person level.


Other Types of Support

While they are a great way to deal with the emotional roller coaster that is cancer, support groups aren't for everyone. If you find yourself needing an emotional outlet or want to find another source of support, try looking into some alternatives such as telephone or email helplines, individual counseling, or cancer buddy programs. Finding the right source of support for you can be crucial to helping cope during treatment. Don't be afraid to step out there and find the support that you need. You won't regret it.


Other Resources

Here are a just a few more resources that you may find helpful during cancer treatments: