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Should You Join A Cancer Support Group?

Last week I finally decided to check out one of the local breast cancer support groups in my area. I had been thinking about doing this for a while. I’ve never been much of a “joiner” and somehow never felt a pressing need for a support group other than my family, friends, dogs and online community. So like usual, I took my time before actually attending a meeting.

I knew eventually I would attend a meeting, at least to find out my reaction to it. My cancer diagnosis has changed me a lot and one thing about me that has changed the most, is my greater desire to reach out to others. I’ve never been particularly outgoing, so this change is really quite significant. Everything I read tells me this is a common reaction after a cancer diagnosis. Many people say they are profoundly changed by their diagnosis and want to make a real difference to others also diagnosed, not that they didn’t want to make a difference before their diagnosis, but afterward they feel compelled to do so. I get that. I believe it’s a coping mechanism for our own healing. Helping someone else “make sense” of their cancer, really helps us even more, at least that seems to be true for me.

So, back to the meeting. Generally speaking, I was impressed with my experience and plan to go back. After meandering down various hospital hallways and finally ending up in the basement near the cafeteria, I walked into the spacious meeting room with that old familiar “Can you tell by looking at me I’ve had cancer?” feeling.

The group this particular evening was small since it was snowing. There were only about 8 of us, plus the two facilitators. The group was a “nice mix” of ages. After all, it’s not that great if everyone else in your group seems waaay older or waaay younger than you. Come to think of it, maybe this is one great advantage of being “middle-aged!” You at least sort of fit in with more age groups??

The first hour was spent on a presentation given by a sleep disorder professional. I liked this idea a lot, since it gave us all time to just be there and settle in before getting to the more personal stuff. Plus, it was a great opportunity to learn something. The topic  was quite interesting and informative, although it was mostly about sleep itself, not how to GET or STAY asleep, which is what I really need to know how to do. The presentation was followed by a short discussion time. 

Lastly, we got to the “nitty gritty” reason for the support group. The part where you go around and say your name and state your “whatever it is you want to state” about your cancer situation. When my turn came, I hesitated a little, but then told fragments of my story. It was the first time I had said this stuff out loud to a group of people I didn’t know other than medical people. It was like “owning” my cancer all over again, but it actually felt good to do that. I’m not even sure why. Perhaps it was simple self-validation. Still, hearing myself say this stuff out loud, continued to feel surreal. I wonder if that feeling ever ends??

Listening to the others share about themselves was comforting, distressing, compelling, sad, tear- jerking, hopeful and just plain emotional. One woman actually broke down and cried about her fears of losing her job, health insurance and house, as well as the chemotherapy she was about to begin. That’s when the purpose of such a support group really hit home for me. It’s a safe place to share your fears. You don’t have to keep your guard up or pretend to feel what you do not. Most importantly, it’s a place where others can gently advise you, encourage you and listen to you, without judging you.

The rest of the women in the group did just that, or at least tried to. Mostly we listened. We all managed to chime in and give a little gentle advice and encouragement to that woman. We even managed to get her to laugh. We understood where she was coming from.

By giving her a few moments of compassion, support and genuine caring, we really gave those things to ourselves as well. That’s what a support group is all about. What you give comes right back at you. It was a good feeling to participate in that exchange.

Other than my friends and family, my best support still comes from my new online community of friends. They all continue to amaze and inspire me on a daily basis. I love not having to leave my house to “meet” with them. I can share just about anything (and I do) and I know somebody will totally “get it.” I will probably never actually see any of them face-to-face, but I don’t need to. Without meeting me in person, I know them, and they in turn know at least parts of me better than some of my oldest friends, quite a remarkable statement.

One other thing I almost forgot to mention, during the meeting we were also served a nice healthy light dinner! And the whole evening was free. How can you not love that?

Everyone’s cancer experience is unique. Obviously, everyone doesn’t need or want a face-to-face support group and that’s OK, but if you’ve been thinking about going to a support group for anything, go ahead. Give it a try! I think I’ll be going back.

Have you ever attended a support group for anything? Why or why not?

If you have, did you find the experience beneficial?

Who or what is your greatest source of support?

 

20 thoughts on “Should You Join A Cancer Support Group?

  1. I belong to a cancer survivor support group. We met for eight week at a meeting run by a facilitator and now we just get together every couple of months and share a meal and our latest news. They’re supportive and they “get it.”

    I’m also part of a BRCA support group, which I have to admit, I don’t attend often. I’ve learned a lot from the sessions I have attended and met a lot of great women, but for some reason, I don’t make the time for it.

    I’m glad you went and got something from the meeting. Now you can make an informed decision if you want to attend again in the future.

    And I agree about the online blogging community. I too have some great blogger friends (like you) who lift me up and understand me when I’m down.

    1. Tina, I’m glad you found a support group you like. You know I never even really thought about finding a BRCA support group other than the online stuff. I wonder if there are any around here. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Nancy, I have never attended a support group for caregivers or anything like that. My dad went to a grief support group but, unlike your experience with your group, he was the youngest by about 20-30 years! I think that made it harder for him, but he stuck with it and got the same message that the way we feel in these situations is normal. It really helped him in the end.

    I want to attend a support group for those who are grieving. I don’t feel like I necessarily need it at this point, but I feel like I could help others, like you stated in your post. First, I need to actually FIND a group around here though! I tend to be the person who others feel they can open up to, and I think that it’s a gift I should share and offer someone in need (much like I do for my online support system as they do for me! You guys are the best!).

    My circle of supporters constists of my dad, my brother, my boyfriend John, my mom’s best friend Gisele, a few close friends, and my online blogging buddies. I have quite the group, and they are wonderful!

    1. Sami, I’m glad your dad went to a group and that it helped him. You should really consider going to some kind of group because you do have a real gift in your ability to communicate with all kinds of people it seems to me. Your experience would surely help others in a face-to-face setting. It would probably be difficult for you, but somehow helpful as well. Of course, you need to find the right group first. Thanks for commenting, Sami.

  3. I went to quite a number of support groups and found them very beneficial. I really loved Gilda’s Club, which made me feel welcomed and not alone.

    Your posting is excellent; in fact, it was like I was looking at myself in the mirror. My pre-cancer self was always shy and not as willing to engage with people who weren’t my closest friends, but my post-cancer self found myself reaching out to others, like you did.

    It’s wonderful how you helped that woman. Support groups are comprised of people who totally “get it.”

    I, too, find huge comfort in my online cancer community. I feel like there should never be a limit to the number of friends one has — virtual or in person!

    1. Beth, I’m glad you found a support group or two you like. Sometimes face-to-face is good. It brings a different sense of “realness” to the experience. I knew you’d understand about the personal changes and the new need to reach out to others. Thanks for sharing your comments.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    Great post! In our area we have a 12 week program that we can attend after our treatment is complete, but there wasn’t a formal support group. A group of us continued to meet once a month. We now have a name “Time to Live” and we are in the processes of formally organizing so we can include other survivors. We will be bringing in speakers, along with participating in actual serving of other survivors. I, too, like you was way to shy before cancer, but now I just can’t help myself.

    The online survivor community has provided me with the greatest support and love walking the healing journey together.

    1. Kim, Great idea to continue meeting and reorganizing after your group’s “alotted” time expired. Good name too! It sounds like you have great plans and will surely make an ongoing difference to many. Good luck with that! Thanks for sharing your comments and being part of my online support group!

  5. I love your posts. I have looked into support groups but have not attended one yet. Part of me wants to move on but….not so easy. Perhaps a support group is something I should take a second look at. I do have a great support system though, loving family and friends who have circled around us.

    1. Maryann, I would encourage you to go ahead and try going at least once. After all, if you don’t like the experience, you don’t have to go back. I’m glad you have a great support system in place with your family and friends. That means so much. Thank you so much for reading my blog. I’m so glad you enjoy it, Maryann. Hope you’ll keep reading and commenting!

  6. Nancy,
    I loved reading your post! It took me back to the days I attended a support group more than ten years ago. I was a bit older than the under-forties group but not old enough for the seniors group, so I went to the younger group of breast cancer survivors. Like you, I found middle age to be perfect for fitting in. I loved the experience. It was the first time I ever had a smoothie, and now I can never get enough of these healthful drinks. This group of caring women really did “get it” when I told them pieces of my story. They offered great advice and words of comfort and understanding.

    I also joined an online support group for lymphedema, since those groups are so much harder to find. We clicked even more than the people in the in-person cancer support group, because our condition is so rare and misunderstood.

    I agree with you that, besides my family and close friends, my online community survivor friends offer the most support to me. They are compassionate and caring souls who offer kind words of encouragement and reassurance. I feel so blessed every time I connect with these online friends, whether through blogs, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, or discussion boards.

    Thanks for sharing about cancer-related social networks. They work for me, but I acknowledge that they are not for everyone who is diagnosed with cancer. Some cope fine without them, but for me, support groups rock.

    1. Jan, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It sounds like you, too, had a good experience when you went to your first support group meeting, plus you were introduced to smoothies! Next month’s topic for the group I attended is lymphedema. I love how the first half is set up to be informational. But the best part is the face-to-face talking with people. Thanks for reading and sharing about your experience.

  7. Hi Nancy, I’m a big believer in support groups, as you may know. I’m so glad you went and found it to be a positive experience. I rely greatly on our online community, but there’s something special about being in the same room with women who “get it.” Who are very much like ourselves and I think it’s a fantastic feeling when I realize I’ve helped others just by talking about my experience. Nothing like that, nothing like learning we’re truly not alone. I haven’t been to my group for a while, but I’m ready to head back. Hopefully, next month. Thanks, Nancy.

    1. Stacey, Yes, I remember that you attend a support group at least occasionally. I agree the feeling you get when you help someone else by just being there and sharing is pretty special. I hope you get back to your group next month. Thanks for your comments, Stacey.

  8. Great timing, Nancy. I too have been wondering about joining a group. I attended a series of group-oriented lectures soon after my treatment started but I wasn’t ready at that point to reach out with or offer support. But I think I fear attending now mostly because I worry about being “cancered” out. The online support, like that which we build with blogs like yours and the groups on websites like Crazy Sexy Cancer, gives us the ability to pop in and out for a few minutes at a time. It takes a bit more of a commitment to show your face! Thanks for giving me the inspiration to give it another thought. Anything we can be doing to ease the burden and hold each other up is worth pursuing.

    Thanks! Cynthia

    1. Cyn, Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree being able to pop in and out is wonderful and convenient. You just can’t beat it and I think people are even more upfront and honest when they do not see each other face-to-face. Still, I liked the in-person experience as well, at least my first meeting. I guess one can never give or receive too much support. I hope you do try a meeting. You’d have a lot to offer, Cyn. Let us know if you do pursue this.

  9. Nancy, I’m glad you found what sounds like an awesome support group. I didn’t have the same experience. I actually tried going to our local support group, but felt very out of place. The women were significantly older than me, and I just did not have the same concerns. I tried it a couple times, and it just wasn’t for me. I think they really need a facilitator who wants to be there; maybe one who can relate better….

    1. Lisa, Thanks for sharing about your experience. Perhaps you should think about starting a group and being the facilitator yourself! Really, I’m being serious here!

  10. I’m not part of a formal group but like you, gather a whole lot from my online community. I’m not really sure how women fit in the formal support group. Between doctor visits, treatments, research, and the rest of my life (kids, hubby, dogs, home, errands, meals, etc) I don’t know how to carve out more time for support group. Maybe someday. I love your line “What you give comes right back at you.” Beautiful, and so true. Well done.

    1. Pinkunderbelly, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for your kind compliments. I really appreciate it. If you are ever able to “carve out” an extra hour or two for yourself, I’d highly recommend trying a support group. Sometimes it’s hard to do that though, another reason the online support is so wonderful. Hope you are doing well!

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