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Should You Join a Support Group?

separator Sometimes, people have the idea that support groups are “hokey” or “touchy-feely.” “I don’t want to go to some group and listen to everybody complain.” “I don’t want to share my feelings with a bunch of strangers.”

But when you think about it, getting treated for cancer is like having a project you want to do in the best possible way. Most of us work on projects with other people. We meet regularly to talk about how things are going and how to solve problems that come up. The people we meet with have something in common with us—they’re working on the same project, and their perspective helps the project go more smoothly. It would be a lot harder to do your part if you didn’t meet with the other project members regularly.

When you’re part of a support group, you can get help with the following kinds of things:
  • Ways to manage side effects of treatments
  • How to handle going back to work
  • How to navigate insurance issues
  • How to cope with the emotional difficulties of having cancer
  • How to handle difficulties that arise with your spouse or partner
  • How to talk to your children about your cancer

Endless variety of groups
If you decide a support group could be for you, you should be able to find one that suits your personality and your individual needs. These are some of the types that are available:

Cancer type: Some people enjoy being in a group in which everyone has the same kind of cancer. For example, men who have prostate cancer may prefer being in a group with other men who have the same condition.

Stage of the illness: If you’re newly diagnosed, you’ll have different issues than someone who’s had the disease for a while. If you want to be with people who are at the same stage of the illness that you are, this kind of group is for you.

Therapy group: These are run by a mental health professional and are more geared toward actual group therapy.

Peer support: This is probably the most common type of group. It’s simply made up of people who have/have had cancer and are there to share their experiences with others. A peer support group is a kind of safe haven where everyone can laugh together, be sad together and serve as a source of comfort to each other.

Family support groups: There are some groups that are for family members of people who have cancer, and some groups that include family members along with the person who has cancer.

If at first you don’t succeed…
If you try a group and it doesn’t feel right, try another one. Sometimes it takes a little while to find a group you connect with. That’s normal.

There are many ways to find support groups in your area. Asking your doctor or other healthcare provider is a good place to start.

If for some reason you’re having trouble finding a group, you may want to read the National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet entitled “National Organizations that Offer Services to People with Cancer and Their Families.”

American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute.
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