The Healing Effect of a Support Group
Your doctor has diagnosed you with cancer. Your head is swimming with thoughts about treatment, loved ones, setting priorities, finances, and more. If you’re like many cancer patients, you’re likely also feeling isolated because, even though you are surrounded by family and friends, you’re overwhelmed by the feeling that no one understands what you’re going through.
Many cancer patients find that participating in a support group with others who face a similar diagnosis or have gone through similar experiences can provide healing to their emotional and spiritual well-being, which is just as important as good medical care.
“Listening to those brave souls in the support group give their testimonies about pancreatic cancer and what they’ve gone through literally changed my life,” said Larry Frantz, pancreatic cancer patient and member of the Memphis-based Kosten Foundation Support Group for Pancreatic Cancer. “I had given up hope and decided I was going to die when I learned about the Kosten support group. We started going and I realized it’s so much more than just a group talking about death and dying. It’s for the patients as well as their caregivers. It helps everyone. I am so thankful to the Kosten Foundation for starting this support group to provide help for patients who previously had nowhere to turn.”
While the format of every support group is different, the benefits are usually similar. What benefits can you expect to find in a support group? We’ve outlined a few of the most common that participants have shared:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged – In a support group, you can be around and talk with people who have something in common, reminding you that you’re not alone in your journey and that there are others who can empathize with
- Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue – Sharing your personal experience with a group that has been through similar experiences can give your morale and determination a boost or take a load off your shoulders.
- Talking openly and honestly about what you are feeling – In a support group, people can share personal experiences and feelings without fear of being judged. Everyone is in the same situation and fighting the same battle, albeit at different stages of his or her
- Improving skills to cope with challenges – Connecting with people who are facing a similar diagnosis can help ease the emotional burden of dealing with cancer or any other disease. Listening to how others have managed their illness can help you get through a rough patch.
- Motivation to manage chronic conditions or stick to treatment plans – A support group can be your cheering squad – even more so than family and friends because they can empathize with your situation, know what encouragement you’re going to need and when you’re going to need it.
- Gaining a sense of empowerment, control or hope – Knowledge is power, so the more you know from people who have been there, the better you will be able to manage your diagnosis. Sharing your story with others will also give them hope to fight their own battle.
- Improving understanding of a disease and your own experience with it – Hearing firsthand from people who are going through the same thing can help cut through the clutter of all the information that is out there so you can find the information you need to better cope with your disease.
- Getting useful feedback about treatment options – A support group can be a source of practical advice about getting through treatment, common side effects, clinical trials and more, but it should complement the guidance of your doctor and medical team.
- Learning about health, economic or social resources – Support group members exchange valuable information and tips with one other including where to find reliable medical information, how to communicate better with doctors, resources if you need financial assistance, and more.
Support groups aren’t just for cancer patients. They can also help caregivers – the friends and loved ones who help another person with the day-to-day challenges of cancer treatment.
Take time to decide whether a support group is right for you. Discuss your needs with your doctor, nurse, social worker, or another member of your healthcare team. If you decide to go ahead and find a support group, there are a variety of resources to help you locate one to suit your needs:
- Your doctor, clinic or hospital
- Nonprofit organizations that advocate for particular medical conditions or life changes
- National Institutes of Health websites for specific diseases and conditions
It is expected that you may be nervous about sharing personal issues with people you don’t know when you join a new support group. At first, you may benefit from just listening. However, contributing your experiences and ideas may help you get more out of the group. Try a support group a few times and if it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, consider a different group or a different group format. Remember that a support group isn’t a substitute for regular medical care. Make sure to let your doctor know that you’re participating in a support group as it is part of your overall care. If you don’t think a support group is appropriate for you, but you need help coping with your condition or situation, talk to your doctor about counseling or other types of therapy.
The Herb Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Support Group is the only group of its kind between St. Louis and Atlanta. The group meets the second Saturday of each month from 10:00 a.m. until noon at Cordova Public Library, 8457 Trinity Road, Cordova, Tennessee. It is open to everyone affected by pancreatic cancer, including patients, family members, caregivers and anyone interested in supporting those that are impacted by, or want to learn more about, this disease. Everyone is welcome and the group is free to all with no RSVP or registration required. Participants tell us they find hope and healing by being part of the support group.