Support Groups - What do they offer?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Being diagnosed with cancer is perhaps the most frightening time in a person's life. The three words "you have cancer" can induce heightened feelings of anxiety and fear. Finding support to help one cope not only with the physical component, but the mental, social and emotional components is also very important.

For purposes of this blog, I will focus on the benefits of support groups and how they can play an integral role in helping one cope with a diagnosis of cancer. There are many different ways individuals and families can find support. Support groups offer certain things that other supportive resources may not, such as a sense of camaraderie and understanding. People often find comfort and support by talking with and listening to others who are also dealing with something very similar. I co-facilitate a support group for individuals with blood cancers and their support person, through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and have seen the benefits a support group can offer. Individuals and their support person find this venue to be a "safe" place to vent their feelings and offer/gather support. That sense of camaraderie is very evident and it is great to see the hope and support that is offered. Sometimes, it's nice to have one's feelings validated or get suggestions or comfort from others who are on a very similar journey with cancer. The hope of this is that people can find better ways to cope with the day to day stressors cancer can induce. It is important to mention that groups can be just for the patient or include a support person. Also keep in mind that the patient is in control of their level of participation and can attend on a short term or long-term basis.

When considering a support group, it is important that there are trained facilitators to help lead the group and keep things on track. Support groups may not be for everyone and if you are unsure, please talk to the oncology social worker or other supportive staff at the cancer center for help in finding an appropriate group or other type of supportive resource. Sometimes a person may benefit more from individual counseling and their cancer care team can help with this. Support groups can come in different forms, such as face-to-face, online, or over the phone. I would again direct you to speak with an oncology social worker or other supportive staff at your cancer center for guidance and a listing of safe and credible supports. It can be very daunting to navigate things online and it is important that you are getting safe and credible information and support.

Carrie Olm MSW, Oncology Social Worker at St. Elizabeth Hospital

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