Cancer support groups: Finding compassion and understanding
While cancer patients treasure a loving family, supportive friends and compassionate caregivers, there’s nothing quite like the understanding offered by someone who has traveled a similar journey.
From time of diagnosis with cancer, patients can feel alone and bewildered, even if they have a strong network of family and friends, said Ben Solomon, MD, Avera Medical Oncologist.
Support groups – either during or after cancer care – allow people to connect with others in similar circumstances, find common ground and realize they are not alone.
“Unless someone has walked in your shoes, you sometimes don’t feel like others really understand what you’re going through,” said Megan Gleich, MSW, Social Worker at Avera Cancer Institute Yankton.
Each patient experiences the effects of cancer and treatment in a different way. “Patients do need to be careful about presuming that their experience will be the same as others,” Solomon said. Yet hearing from others that there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel” is powerful.
Sharing joys and milestones
Support groups are an ideal setting to share stories of joys and struggles, and celebrations of key milestones. Support groups also offer practical advice and education.
Support groups take different forms, for example, an open group that anyone can join at anytime, or a structured program. “Both are valuable for individuals at different times in their journey,” Gleich said.
The benefits are emotional, spiritual and even physical.
“Stress affects the entire body. If you are carrying around extra stress, it can impact you on a physical level,” Gleich said. In addition, fellow support group members can provide encouragement to stay on top of appointments and medications, and persevere with the prescribed treatment regimen, even when it’s difficult.
Solomon says it’s healthier for patients to view treatment as an “ally” rather than an “enemy.” “It’s my experience that those who see their treatment in a positive light tend to tolerate treatment-associated side effects better. Maintaining a hopeful, positive outlook helps with coping with treatment as well as the disease.”
After cancer care
After cancer care, it’s not unusual for patients to feel a little lost after they’re no longer going to regular appointments for active treatment. “They are asking, ‘now what,’ and often have lingering fears of the cancer returning, or guilt at having survived cancer when others have not,” Gleich said.
For cancer survivors, it’s good to hear how others have returned to life after cancer. “There are no ‘shoulds’ as to how you should feel or respond along the cancer journey,” Gleich said.