Group Support when facing cancer

Is group support right for me?

Estimated read-time: 8 minutes

  1. Why seek group support for cancer?
  2. What do cancer support groups focus on?
  3. What are the pros and cons of group support for cancer?
  4. Finding the right group

Why seek group support for cancer?

Cancer takes you so far from your normal life that you end up feeling disconnected from those around you by the big emotions you feel.

You may still feel alone, even when you have friends, family and professionals around you to support you.

No matter how loving, compassionate, empathetic or knowledgeable they may be, it can still be difficult to express exactly the magnitude of what you are going through.

It is other survivors who can truly understand what has happened to you.1

This is why joining a group support community, either in person or online, can become a real lifeline in your time of need.

By looking around you when you are in your group it is comforting to know that there are others in this with you. It is reassuring to know that there are people who understand the full impact upon life that cancer can inflict.

Group support for cancer will make you feel emotionally safe in your moment of crisis. When you are in the company of those who are going through similar experiences, you can really let it all go.2

Just having the opportunity to actually meet and talk to other people going through something similar can be very reassuring. You will gain comfort from each other and have the opportunity to share your feelings and experiences in real time, with real people.

You will soon realize that the worries and fears you are experiencing are most likely the same innermost feelings of those sitting beside you.3

Many people with cancer find that group support is an opportunity to make new, powerful connections which are potentially really useful friendships to have in this moment.

A natural bond and a sense of belonging will be formed4 with other members of the group, even with the leaders as you ride the rollercoaster together; encouraging, celebrating or commiserating together.

Due to the many vulnerabilities which cancer presents, many are more open to share their stories and experiences in the hope of giving and receiving much needed support.

The mutual resilience, solidarity and friendship group support for cancer offers can be just the tonic you need. In fact, being supported by the group and supporting others in turn is a very powerful coping tool to have.

Group support for cancer

What do cancer support groups focus on?

It can be daunting joining any group, never mind under these circumstances and you may be wondering, ‘What is meant by group support for cancer?’

In seeking support for cancer, you may already have met other patients walking a similar path in hospital or at outpatient appointments. Long treatment protocols such as chemotherapy will give plenty of opportunity to talk with others.

Group therapy just provides that same support but in a more organized way.5

Often led by a psychologist, social worker or trained counsellor,6 group therapy deals with the same concerns as individual counselling.

Your worries and fears are managed and practical coping strategies for dealing with the challenges in your life right now.

Common difficulties group therapy can help cancer survivors overcome are for example;

  • side effects
  • financial stress
  • role changes
  • relationship changes7
  • existential issues
  • changes to body image8
  • communication
  • a terminal prognosis
  • end of life issues9

So, ‘What can I expect from a cancer support group?’

A group therapy session for cancer should offer a survivor a place to feel less alone, more hopeful and better understood.

It is a place to talk and to listen.

You should be able to de-stress, share tips, make suggestions and emotionally support one another.10

There will be an emphasis upon positive coping strategies that you can actively use such as problem-solving, along with advice on how to reduce ineffective ways of handling cancer such as avoidance and denial.11

Health information may also be shared about positive ways of how to manage during difficult times such as using; exercise, diet and relaxation12 to promote your overall wellbeing.

What are the pros and cons of group support for cancer?

There are many benefits of sharing your common cancer experience in a group and gaining the seemingly endless amount of knowledge about this foreign medicalized world of cancer.

Your group will be made up of similar survivors who will not only willingly listen to it all without judgement but are also able to connect on a deeper level than anyone else by contributing their helpful experiences.

Feeling understood, inspired, reassured, comforted and supported13 can make such a difference during difficult times.

In fact, sharing your story with others can help you adjust to your new life situation and re-frame your worries. Surrounded by others who care, you can confront your fears and discover useful ways of coping14 including stress management methods and problem-solving ideas.15

These learnt survival skills can help you develop a more active and proactive attitude in your response to cancer.16

For example, you may gain the tools you need to overcome potentially chronic mental health issues such as anxiety and depression which pose a threat to your wellbeing and quality of life.17, 18

Another positive of becoming involved with group support for cancer is that you can draw from the strength of others and build upon the knowledge of those who have gone before.

Out of this bond a sense of ‘community resilience’ will grow.19

However, some people may feel that group support for cancer is not for them and they would prefer to have individual counselling. This may be because they want to be very private about the issues they are experiencing around their illness.

Alternatively, it may be that they perceive that the pressures from their personal lives surrounding their illness may not exactly fit the mold and therefore they would benefit more from having one-to-one counselling.

There are downsides to being in a group support for cancer. The sad reality is that there may be people whose cancer advances and whom you lose along the way.20

This can be particularly distressing and you may feel like that your empathy for others is all used up on your own situation, which is perfectly understandable.

You can also worry that you don’t want to be sucked into the negativity of others and that you may not be able to cope with hearing about any more trauma or sadness.

This is a common concern which surprisingly isn’t often a major issue. This is because the overwhelming feeling expressed in a group is of being in a privileged, safe place to share where you can be listened to and understood.21

Perhaps finding the right group is an important point to think about.

Finding the right group

Depending upon the cancer type, stage, spread, treatment plan and prognosis will all have an effect upon how you respond emotionally to having the same disease. With cancer there are also many different perspectives and experiences, with everyone being emotionally affected in so many varying ways.

Above and beyond your emotional reaction, there are many different types of cancer, different stages, prognoses and points along the journey which can separate your experience from those around you.

Caregivers and close family members will also be suffering, perhaps struggling and in need support. It is important to note that there are groups available to support everyone affected.

Ideally you will be in a support group alongside other people with the same stage and even cancer as you have. However, even if you are in a support group with other people suffering from different diagnoses, there still will be common ground to be found.

Support from cancer survivors

Most group support for cancer focuses upon shared issues such as; role changes, relationship strains, financial concerns22, side effect control and how to cope with the big all-consuming emotions.

If you do experience a mis-match in life situations with your fellow survivors or your needs and feelings have changed over time23, ask your medical team to suggest another group. It is important to try and find another which will suit you better, whether it is in-person or online.

You need to feel comfortable with the dynamics and atmosphere in order to feel supported and sufficiently trusting enough to comfortably open up about that issues that you need to talk about.

Feeling safe and valued in a community on a consistent basis is what you are looking for. Expression should be allowed to free-flowing and from the heart. The support needs to be given and received, as everyone is there for the same mutual need.

You may not always feel comfortable being so exposed at such a vulnerable time, but it is through adversity that you will learn more about your true self. Your values, beliefs, faith are all pulled into question. Your innate abilities to withstand tough times are uncovered. The inner-strength you will discover may surprise you.

This is a time to recognize and celebrate these strengths but it is also a time to overcome any weaknesses by turning outwards towards the huge amount of support that there is out there.

If you think the information on this new website would be helpful to others, please like and share the word.

Recommend to others facing cancer, on support forums, social media, in person or by email. Thank you.

References

  1. Tolbert LCSW, P. & Damaskos LCSW OSWC, P. (2008) 100 Questions & Answers About Life After Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide, 1st edn., United States of America: Jones and Bartlett Publications.
  2. Spiegel, M.D., D. and Classen, C., Ph.D. 2000. Group Therapy for cancer Patients. 1st ed. United States of America: Basic Books.
  3. Spiegel, M.D., D. and Classen, C., Ph.D. 2000. Group Therapy for cancer Patients. 1st ed. United States of America: Basic Books.
  4. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2018. Cancer Survivorship. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/sites/cancer.net/files/cancer_survivorship.pdf. [Accessed 22 December 2018].
  5. Moorey & Greer, S., 2002. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for People with Cancer. 2nd ed. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  6. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2018. Cancer Survivorship. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/sites/cancer.net/files/cancer_survivorship.pdf. [Accessed 22 December 2018].
  7. National Cancer Institute (2019) Cancer Support Groups, Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/support-groups (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  8. Spiegel, M.D., D. and Classen, C., Ph.D. 2000. Group Therapy for cancer Patients. 1st ed. United States of America: Basic Books.
  9. Moorey & Greer, S., 2002. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for People with Cancer. 2nd ed. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  10. Standford Center for Integrative Medicine (2019) Ten Steps toward Emotional Well-Being, Available at: https://med.stanford.edu/survivingcancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-with-cancer.html (Accessed: 22nd March 2019).
  11. Northouse, L.L. PhD, RN, FAAN et al. (2010) ‘Interventions with Family Caregivers of Cancer Patients: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials’, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 60(5), pp. 317–339 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946584/ (Accessed: 31st January 2019).
  12. Cain E.N. et al. (1986) ‘Psychosocial benefits of a cancer support group.’, Cancer, 1;57((1)), pp. 183-9 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3079660 (Accessed: 20th April 2019).
  13. Spiegel, M.D., D. and Classen, C., Ph.D. 2000. Group Therapy for cancer Patients. 1st ed. United States of America: Basic Books.
  14. Standford Center for Integrative Medicine (2019) Ten Steps toward Emotional Well-Being, Available at: https://med.stanford.edu/survivingcancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-with-cancer.html (Accessed: 22nd March 2019).
  15. Cipolletta, S. et al. (2019) ‘The Effectiveness of Psychoeducational Support Groups for Women With Breast Cancer and Their Caregivers: A Mixed Methods Study’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10(288), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387958/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  16. Cipolletta, S. et al. (2019) ‘The Effectiveness of Psychoeducational Support Groups for Women With Breast Cancer and Their Caregivers: A Mixed Methods Study’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10(288), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387958/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  17. Cain E.N. et al. (1986) ‘Psychosocial benefits of a cancer support group.’, Cancer, 1;57((1)), pp. 183-9 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3079660 (Accessed: 20th April 2019).
  18. Montazeri, A. et al. (2001) ‘Anxiety and depression in breast cancer patients before and after participation in a cancer support group’, Patient Educational Counsel, 1;45((3)), pp. 195-8 [Online]. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11722855/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  19. Southwick S. M. & Charney, D. S., 2018. Resilience. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  20. Tolbert LCSW, P. & Damaskos LCSW OSWC, P. (2008) 100 Questions & Answers About Life After Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide, 1st edn., United States of America: Jones and Bartlett Publications.
  21. Montazeri, A. et al. (2001) ‘Anxiety and depression in breast cancer patients before and after participation in a cancer support group’, Patient Educational Counsel, 1;45((3)), pp. 195-8 [Online]. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11722855/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  22. National Cancer Institute (2019) Cancer Support Groups, Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/support-groups (Accessed: 20th July 2020).
  23. Tolbert LCSW, P. & Damaskos LCSW OSWC, P. (2008) 100 Questions & Answers About Life After Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide, 1st edn., United States of America: Jones and Bartlett Publications.

Bibliography

American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2018. Cancer Survivorship. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/sites/cancer.net/files/cancer_survivorship.pdf. [Accessed 22 December 2018].

Cain E.N. et al. (1986) ‘Psychosocial benefits of a cancer support group.’, Cancer, 1;57((1)), pp. 183-9 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3079660 (Accessed: 20th April 2019).

Cipolletta, S. et al. (2019) ‘The Effectiveness of Psychoeducational Support Groups for Women With Breast Cancer and Their Caregivers: A Mixed Methods Study’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10(288), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387958/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (2019) Stress Management, Available at: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/treatment/survivorship/survival-strategies/stress-management.html (Accessed: 5th April 2019).

Hu, MD, FRCSC, A. (2017) ‘Reflections: The Value of Patient Support Groups ‘, Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Vol 156(Issue 4), pp. Page(s): 587-588 [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0194599817697030 (Accessed: 13th June 2019).

Johnson, J. & Lane, C. (1993) ‘Role of support groups in cancer care’, Supportive Care in Cancer, Volume 1(Issue 1), pp. pp 52–56 [Online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00326639 (Accessed: 13th June 2019).

Malekpour Tehrani, A. et al. (2011) ‘Belonging to a peer support group enhance the quality of life and adherence rate in patients affected by breast cancer: A non-randomized controlled clinical trial’, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 16(5), pp. 658–665 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3214378/ (Accessed: 13th June 2019).

Moorey & Greer, S., 2002. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for People with Cancer. 2nd ed. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Montazeri, A. et al. (2001) ‘Anxiety and depression in breast cancer patients before and after participation in a cancer support group’, Patient Educational Counsel, 1;45((3)), pp. 195-8 [Online]. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11722855/ (Accessed: 20th July 2020).

National Cancer Institute (2019) Cancer Support Groups, Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/support-groups (Accessed: 20th July 2020).

Northouse, L.L. PhD, RN, FAAN et al. (2010) ‘Interventions with Family Caregivers of Cancer Patients: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials’, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 60(5), pp. 317–339 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946584/ (Accessed: 31st January 2019).

Sautier MSc, L. et al. (2013) ‘Participation in patient support groups among cancer survivors: do psychosocial and medical factors have an impact?’, Supportive Care in Cancer, Volume 23(Issue 1), pp. Pages 140-148 [Online]. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ecc.12122 (Accessed: 13th June 2019).

Southwick, S. M. & Charney, D. S., 2018. Resilience. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Snyder, Ph.D. et al., K. A., 2010. Crisis, Social Support, and the Family Response: Exploring the Narratives of Young Breast Cancer Survivors. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, [Online]. 28(4), 413–431. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904631/ [Accessed 10 December 2018].

Spiegel, M.D., D. and Classen, C., Ph.D. 2000. Group Therapy for cancer Patients. 1st ed. United States of America: Basic Books.

Standford Center for Integrative Medicine (2019) Ten Steps toward Emotional Well-Being, Available at: https://med.stanford.edu/survivingcancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-with-cancer.html (Accessed: 22nd March 2019).

Taleghani, PhD, F. (2012) ‘The effects of peer support group on promoting quality of life in patients with breast cancer’, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 17((Issue 2 Supplement 1)), pp. S125–S130. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3696969/ (Accessed: 13th June 2019).

Tolbert LCSW, P. & Damaskos LCSW OSWC, P. (2008) 100 Questions & Answers About Life After Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide, 1st edn., United States of America: Jones and Bartlett Publications.

Woźniak, K. et al. (2014) ‘Cancer: a family at risk’, Przeglad Menopauzalny, 13((4)), pp. 253–261. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520372/ (Accessed: 27th March 2019).

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