Five Ways to Decide if a Support Group is Right for You

While fighting cancer, patients and caretakers are also learning how to navigate health care decisions and cope with a new set of emotional, mental and relationship challenges. With so much on their plate, some turn to support groups for help. Support groups provide a space where individuals who are fighting cancer can come together to share experiences, receive advice and learn.

 

Lori Hayes, CNS, an advance practice provider in radiation oncology at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, co-coordinates the brain tumor support group through UW Health. The group has been meeting monthly since 1999. Below, Hayes discusses five ways to decide if joining a support group is right for you.

 

Your care provider can provide additional information on cancer and tumor support groups in the Madison area. A list of local support groups can also be found here.

 

Are you looking for practical strategies for living with cancer?

 

In a support group, patients share how they have personally dealt with side effects, managed fatigue and cognitive changes and what resources they have found helpful. We try to connect people, saying “Didn’t you also have balance issues and what did you do or where did you go for that?” We also bring in guest speakers: once, we invited a lawyer to talk about social security disability applications and appeals. In a support group, patients and caretakers can share information about available resources and learn strategies for coping with disease on a day-to-day basis.

 

Do you need to talk with people who can relate to your struggles?

 

Many cancer patients may experience feelings of loneliness or isolation. A support group provides a space to interact with people who have gone through similar experiences and who can relate to one another. Part of what I think that makes a support group work is that we provide people with the opportunity to see other people with their condition, and sometimes people are doing better than you, sometimes people are doing worse than you. People can talk about issues that they may not want to discuss in front of family members, or it just gives them a time to vent. Everyone reaches out to each other, and I think that’s part of it what keeps people coming.

 

Are you a caretaker of a cancer patient?

 

Those who provide care often need to receive care. Some support groups welcome both patients and caretakers while some are specifically for caretakers. For those adjusting to this role, support groups can provide education, coping strategies, and encouragement.

 

Is this the right time to take part in a support group?

 

For patients just beginning treatment, the additional commitment of joining a support group can be overwhelming. Other patients may attend a support group for a time, but later find themselves in a good place, mentally and emotionally.  Patients’ needs can change with time, and during certain stages some patients may find that taking part in a support group is not helpful. There is no pressure or obligation to join a support group at a specific time, and patients and caregivers can join or return at any point.

 

Are you willing to just give one a try?

 

I’ve had patients who say, "I don’t need a support group, I’ll never want a support group," but then they come and end up saying "Oh my gosh, this is the best resource ever." I always tell people, a support group is not right for everybody, but you don’t know if it’s not right for you until you’ve attended one.

 

Clinical social work services are available to people with cancer diagnoses, their family members, and other support persons. Services include support with the emotional issues of cancer, impact on family, adjustment to the illness and treatment, and assistance with financial, disability, access and vocational issues. Learn more about Clinical Social Work Services.