Many people diagnosed with cancer find joining a support group helpful when managing their feelings and fear during and after their cancer treatment. According to studies, cancer support groups help patients reduce their anxiety and depression, improve their self-esteem, and enhance their general quality of life.
In essence, a support group serves as a safe place for patients to share their experiences with others going through similar experiences. It also allows them to share practical information, including what to expect during the treatment, how to manage the side effects of the treatment, and how to communicate with family members and healthcare providers. Discussing these topics within the group could provide a sense of control and remove the feeling of being helpless while coping with cancer. Moreover, a support group helps family members, friends, and caregivers of cancer patients deal with their needs better. For detailed benefits of a support group, check Joining a Cancer Support Group.
To maximize the benefits of a support group, it is essential to find the right one for you. Before attending one, try to answer these questions first to find out which type of support group could work for you.
What type of support are you looking for?
Support groups vary in nature due to the purpose they want to serve. For example, there are support groups that are social in nature or only aim for patients to connect with one another and share their experiences in a casual environment, while there are others that are more structured.
Here are the three main types of support groups and the kind of support they provide:
- Peer-led or self-help groups – run by the members themselves
- Professional-led support groups – a counselor, psychologist, social worker, or any trained professional facilitates the exchange among members. Unlike peer-led and self-help groups, professional-led support groups have rules regarding how the group functions and professionals ensure that they are followed. Usually, participants are asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
- Informational support groups – a professional facilitator provides cancer-related information and education to the patients and/or their caregivers.
- From whom do you want to get support?
Support groups may be designed for specific audiences. Some only accept patients and/or caregivers with a specific type of cancer, while others are open to all types of cancer diagnoses. Groups may also consist of patients of a specific stage of cancer or of a certain age group.
What settings work best for you?
Support groups are available both in-person and online, and you may choose to do one or both.
Meeting places for in-person support groups may vary. It could be in local hospitals, cancer centers, or community facilities. Many people prefer this because they can have direct contact with other group members. However, if the location of the meeting place is far away for you or you are not allowed to travel due to health reasons, online support groups may be the better option for you.
Online support groups come in various forms, including message boards, social media platforms, chat rooms, and phone applications. There are also video chat support groups that are run similarly to in-person ones, so people who find a virtual setting more comfortable to share feelings with others may obtain the same benefits. Some examples of those who offer online support groups cited by the American Association for Cancer Research are the following:
- American Cancer Society – currently has thousands of support groups nationwide and maintains a list of organizations that also offer support groups.
- CancerCare – offers online support groups facilitated by master’s-prepared oncology social workers to help people manage practical, emotional and financial challenges that cancer brings.
- Cancer News – provides links to websites with a list of support groups specific for breast, prostate, and blood cancers.
- OncoChat – provides online peer support for cancer survivors, their family members, and friends through chat.
- Cancer Support Community – a nonprofit network of cancer support that connects cancer patients with family, friends, and other survivors to a global online community.
Aside from these factors, you may also look into the schedule and frequency of the meeting if it suits your own schedule and preference.
If you are being treated away from home, would you prefer to attend in a group near your residence or your treatment location?
If you are spending most of your time at home, it is always best to find a support group close to your residence, but if you spend most of the time in the hospital or treatment centers, it is better to find one near them.
After answering these questions and you know what kind, where, and in what setting of the support group matches you, here are some ways to find a cancer support group:
- Call your local hospital to know if they are hosting cancer support programs.
- Ask your social work counselor to help you select a support group.
- Go online. An online search may lead you to reputable cancer support group providers near your area. Just make sure you’re eligible to join this group.
- Ask around because other patients and caregivers may know some support groups and recommend you one.
Support groups are different from each other. You may need to try more than one group before you find the appropriate setting for you, so don’t give up if the first support group you find does not fit your needs. Remember that the best support group is the one that works for you.
If at some point you find support group not that helpful for you, you might also consider other methods of coping like the following:
- Obtaining one-on-one counseling and mental health support
- Reaching out to a cancer helpline
- Joining educational events at your cancer treatment center or from any organization
- Talking to a spiritual advisor
- Bonding or doing activities together with family members and friends