When you look to any type of media these days, you’re likely to see, hear or read about a group that is providing emotional or financial support to cancer patients or someone dealing with another advanced stage illness. From last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge to the ubiquitous pink ribbon apparel of breast cancer organizations, our society has quickly recognized the important positive effects that can come from coming together in a shared experience. Though cancer support services and communities have existed for decades, their overwhelming popularity is a relatively new phenomenon that has provided patients, their families and caregivers with an outlet for their emotions, as well as an invaluable source of information on where to find essential services or financial help for cancer.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your world can shrink pretty quickly. Interacting with healthcare practitioners can take up the bulk of your day, and though they are informative and often compassionate, they are there to treat your illness – not to support you. Your social circle is likely made up of friends, family members and colleagues who love and care about you and who want to help, but often don’t know what to say or understand what you’re going through. This is where cancer support groups are most valuable.
The people who make up support groups are there because of their shared experience. By talking with others who are going through or who have lived through the same fears, pain, grief and disbelief, participants feel free to express themselves openly and honestly in a way that they are often hesitant to with their loved ones. In addition to emotional support there is also the benefit of practical information sharing on issues such as help with cancer bills, pain management, and how to navigate the complications of health insurance.
There are a number of different types of cancer support groups that are available for those who have been diagnosed to choose from. Some exist simply to provide comfort and support while others are dedicated to education, or even to raising awareness and funding for a particular disease. Some groups are dedicated to discussion while others may simply offer sessions and lectures by professionals in the field aimed at expanding available information to patients and their families.
In addition to having different focuses, cancer support groups can be formed based upon what is most convenient for their members. In some cases they hold regularly scheduled meetings at hospitals or community centers, while in other cases they are simply held online in the form of community boards where people can post questions, answers, and comforting thoughts. Groups may be broadly based or may be specific to a type of cancer, and some may be formed specifically to address emotional issues while others aim at answering highly specific questions such as how to pay for cancer treatment.
Finding the right group is largely a matter of your own needs. You can start investigating the options that are available to you by speaking to your physician or looking online – identifying a group can be as simple as Googling your cancer and the words support, along with your town name or zip code. Take the time to see how the group describes itself and what it offers, and see how each feels. There is no harm in participating one time and then not going back again. Everybody has their own comfort level and is seeking their own answer. Once you find a group that feels right, you will no doubt find yourself looking forward to your interactions, and finding that it offers you relief and answers.
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