Soon after you’re diagnosed with cancer, chances are high your doctor will provide you with information on local support groups. You’ll likely get this information again at treatment appointments, and again at follow-up visits.
You’ll also hear the words “support group” often, and for good reason—studies
have found that cancer support groups can enhance self-esteem, reduce depression, decrease anxiety, and improve relationships with family members and friends. Support groups can also help people with cancer cope with their diagnosis and treatment in healthy ways.
It's fine if you’re not sold on the idea of a support group right away. Though you’ll hear a lot about support groups throughout your cancer treatment, no one will force you to participate in one. These are optional resources, available to you should you wish to partake. Whether that’s now, later, or never is up to you. But if you do decide you want to check out a support group, begin by considering what kind you want. Ask yourself a few questions:
Do you want your support group to be by text in a chat room online, by phone, by webcam or in person?
You may be surprised to learn there are many options available for you to meet your comfort level and communication preferences! Some people feel best in face-to-face settings. Others may prefer an online or phone group. If you’re undergoing treatment that weakens immune function, you may be advised to avoid in-person gatherings and opt for something virtual.
How far are you willing to travel for a group?
People who live in rural areas may not have an in-support group nearby; in this case, a phone or online group may be a better fit. Some patients choose to travel to a group in a neighborhood or town that is different from where they currently reside, especially if that support group is made up of people who share the same diagnosis, gender identity, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Do you want the group to be facilitated by a professional or a cancer survivor?
A therapist or social worker can help keep things on track, as well as deal with concerning topics that may come up. A group facilitated by a cancer survivor can be appealing as well, as it can be comforting to talk with someone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis and treatment firsthand.
Do you want to talk about your experience, learn from others’, or simply be in the presence of people who “get” it?
People attend support groups for a lot of reasons. If you’re looking for a therapeutic experience through sharing, a group that has a speaker each meeting probably won’t be very satisfying for you. But if you’re looking to learn more about your diagnosis and how to cope, that speaker meeting might be just the ticket.
What kind of vibe are you looking for?
Do you want to leave your meetings feeling inspired? Hopeful? Happy? Understood? Every group has its own personality, and you’ll want to find one that matches yours. Some people love inspirational speakers, while others roll their eyes; some deliberately seek out the silver lining, while others want to hear “You’re right—that really does suck.”
Once you have a general idea of the kind of support group you’re looking for, ask your cancer care team for recommendations. You can also search online to see if your town has a local chapter of Gilda’s Club or Cancer Support Community
, which offer in-person and online support groups. CancerCare
is another excellent resource for finding online or phone support groups. If you’re looking for a support group for your specific type of cancer, consider some of these resources:
You can always reach out to the group prior to visiting, if you wish. Sometimes, talking with the group facilitator about the group’s rules, expectations, and overall tone can give you a good sense of whether a group is the right fit for you.
Generally, a good group will be full of people who give each other helpful advice and suggestions without giving medical advice or directives about how to take care of yourself. This can take many forms, from tips for what to ask for at your next doctor’s visit, to stories about how they explained their diagnosis to family members. Sometimes, you will find people who have been to the same doctors or clinics as you, and can provide valuable insights about features (warm blankets, snacks, free hats, etc.) that you might have taken longer to learn about otherwise.
Remember, support groups vary greatly. If you visit one and find it’s not the right fit, that’s okay! It just means you’re one step closer to finding the group that does work for you. Reflect on what you didn’t like about that experience, and use that information to help you search for one that does fit your needs. Options abound to provide you with the type of support you’re looking for as you move through your cancer experience.