Deciding if a Support Group is Right for You
Last updated: January 2019
Cancer patients often experience significant distress and can have a reduced quality of life. Cancer support groups involve the provision of emotional support informally or through structured intervention. The group may be led by a healthcare professional or a peer support leader. Support groups are recognized as an effective strategy to provide information, emotional and practical support and are based on sharing experiences as a valuable coping resource.
In a study by Taylor et al, participants in a web based support group reported benefits such as decreased depression and stress.1 Support groups can also provide hope, encouragement, reassurance, an opportunity to exchange information with peers, an improvement in cancer-related knowledge, and a sense of belonging.
A cancer support meeting is appropriate for people with cancer, but can also be useful for those touched by the disease, such as for caregivers and family members. One of the most common reasons to join a support group is to be with others with similar cancer experiences. There has also been some research that supports the idea that joining a support group can improve quality of life and survival.2
Benefits of a support group
Participants often find many benefits when joining a support group or community, including:2
- Feeling less alone during the cancer experience
- Coping with treatment side effects by talking to others
- Recognizing and working through the many emotions and feelings that come up during cancer treatment and survivorship
Support comes in many forms
Cancer support groups are now available in varying formats.
- Online: People meet through chat rooms, list serves, moderated discussion groups, or talk with each other over email. People often like online support groups because they can take part in them at any time, day or night. It may also be convenient for those who cannot travel to meetings.
- Telephone: Participants dial into a phone line linked together like a conference call. The individuals can then talk and share.
- Face to Face meetings: Participants attend a scheduled time at an on-site location.
Things to think about before you join
There are several factors that you may want to consider when choosing a support group.
- Look at size of the group. Who attends the group that you're considering? Survivors? Caregivers? Can you bring family with you?
- Is the group led by a professional or fellow survivor?
- How long are the meetings? How frequently do they occur?
- Evaluate your main purpose in joining a support group and the intended purpose of the meeting you might join. Is it to share feelings or offer tips to solve common problems? Determine what type of group would most meet your needs.
- Are you comfortable talking about personal issues?
Information about support groups can be found at your local hospital, by speaking to your assigned social worker, or online.
Cancer support groups are increasingly recognized as an effective means of meeting the needs of people affected by cancer. It may be a worthwhile strategy to try for many cancer patients.
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