Finding yourself in a new and unfamiliar environment can be intimidating, frightening, uncomfortable. We’ve all been there – we’ve been the new kid in school, or gone through our first day at a new job, or gone to a party where we didn’t know a soul other than the person who invited us. One of the most comforting and helpful things in that situation is when you find yourself talking to somebody who is going through the same thing, or who recently was in your shoes. Often it’s the person who was most recent to the group that reaches out to you, in part because they remember just how hard it was for them to be in your shoes. The same is true for cancer patients, and that is where peer counseling has proven to be so valuable.
Cancer patients go through a whirlwind when they are first diagnosed. They are bombarded with testing and medical information and forms to fill out and medications to take. In the midst of a hurricane of new faces and concerned family members who don’t know how to help, they can feel more alone than they ever have before in their life. There is a nearly universal feeling that nobody can understand what they are going through – that they are traveling this road on their own. In the face of this challenging and debilitating emotion, patients are often referred to cancer survivors who have gone through the same diagnosis and treatment protocol so that they can speak with somebody who has “been there” and who can guide them through what to expect and how to cope. This is the essence of peer counseling.
Peer counseling is available in a variety of formats. It is available not only for patients, but also for their caregivers, giving all an opportunity to share experiences, ask for help, and offer guidance. When a cancer patient is matched with a peer who has a shared diagnosis, they are able to ask for answers to questions that they can’t ask of a doctor or nurse who has not been through the same experience. They are able to be unguarded and honest, expressing fears and grief and getting back information that is by turns practical, emotional, and realistic. Peer counseling support can be provided in person, on the phone, and even online via community boards, email or skype sessions. It can be done on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting, providing a sense of community. In many cases, patients who find themselves comforted by this type of counseling later return to provide the support themselves, finding a positive purpose in their struggle and taking pride in giving back.
There have been many scientific studies done on the impact of peer counseling. Researchers have found that it provides instrumental support both for those who are seeking counseling and those who are providing it. Not only does it go a long way in reducing anxiety and depression, but the social support also encourages cancer patients to seek out other resources that they had previously been hesitant about accessing or unaware of, including alternative therapies that offer pain relief an organizations such as Fifth Season Financial that can provide financial resources to those struggling with medical bills.
If you are a cancer patient or caregiver who is interested in taking advantage of peer counseling, the best place to start is with your own physician. Most doctors who treat cancer patients are familiar with local resources, and may even have previous patients who have offered to provide support to those traveling the same journey they have. Most national cancer organizations’ websites will provide information on services that are available nationally and locally, so that is a good place to search, and the hospital where your physician practices is likely to have a social work department that will be able to help you find a support group as well. The same is true for your local community center or place of worship, and some local or county government agencies also maintain information on outreach groups as well.
Isolation sucks. Instapeer is a free mobile app that let’s you instantly and anonymously join a community of patients, survivors and caregivers just like you who’ve been there and walked in your shoes. Connect instantly, participate in discussions, exchange ideas, swap stories, engage in social support and network with others who “get it.” You can download the free app here: Instapeer.
Relieve financial stress with the Funds For Living Program.