Many resources are available for people with cancer and their families. Support can come from family and friends, as well as from health professionals, support groups, or your place of worship. Asking for support is one way you can feel in better control of what’s going on in your life.
You may live alone or just feel alone. You may feel as if you have nothing to live for. If your friends and family are not supportive, find people who are. There are probably others in your community who need your companionship as much as you need theirs. The mutual support of others with cancer might also be a source of comfort. Check with your health care team, a member of the clergy, or call your local American Cancer Society office for resources in your community.
Types of support programs and groups
Support programs can be found in many formats and include individual or group counseling and support groups. Some groups are formal and focus on learning about cancer or dealing with feelings. Others are informal and social. Some groups are made up of only people with cancer or only caregivers, while others include spouses, family members, or friends. Other groups focus on certain types of cancer or stages of disease. As mentioned earlier, cancer support groups for children are also available in some areas. Groups can meet for a certain number of weeks or the program can be ongoing. Some programs have closed membership and others are open to new, drop-in members.
Health professionals (a social worker, nurse, or other licensed professional), trained facilitators, or a group member may lead the group. The leader of a group should have some type of training before taking charge of a support group.
For those who cannot attend meetings or appointments, counseling over the telephone is offered by organizations such as CancerCare (see the “To learn more” section). Some people may find online support groups helpful because they like the privacy. It may be comforting to chat with other people facing situations much like yours. But keep in mind that chat rooms and message boards are not the best source of cancer information, especially if they are not monitored by trained professionals or experts.
No matter what kind of group it is, everyone taking part should feel comfortable in the group and with the facilitator. If you have any fears or uncertainties before entering a group, try to discuss them with the group’s facilitator ahead of time.
Kay, cancer survivor: “As soon as I was diagnosed, I told anyone who would listen, and everyone was great at just listening. I’m not very good in group situations. I enjoy one-on-one interaction. I think talking about my disease to different family members and friends was MY support group and a good way for me to get some positive feedback. I never found it difficult to talk about cancer. Maybe that was because my mother had also been a breast cancer survivor. After the diagnosis of my recurrence, I did attend several support groups. Although I could see that this truly helped other members of the group, I just felt like it wasn’t for me.”
Support in any form allows you to talk about your feelings and develop skills to cope with the changes taking place in your life. Some studies have found that people who go to support groups have an improved quality of life, including better sleep and appetite.
Self-help groups are most often run by non-professionals who have been through the same kinds of problems or crises. The people in these groups can relate to your experience firsthand and often have treatment-related tips and advice that may help you. For example, they may offer a home remedy that helped with their nausea, or know where to get the best prices on wigs and turbans. If their family members are not in the group, patients may feel free to express exactly how they feel. Family members can also benefit from sharing their feelings, fears, and anxieties with other families affected by cancer.
Self-help groups also give people recovering or recovered from cancer a chance to help others with cancer. With some training, many people with cancer have found that helping others makes them feel better about themselves. They may go on to become group counselors or facilitators.
Delores, cancer survivor: “I am a Reach To Recovery volunteer. When you talk to someone who has been through what you are going through and they are healthy and happy, it can be very comforting. Sharing my experience helps calm the fears of newly diagnosed patients. It’s a joy to hear the fear leave their voices.”
Choosing when to take part in a support group is important. Some find it difficult to join a support group when they are first diagnosed. The stories that other patients may share, after months or even years of treatment, can be overwhelming and upsetting. If you try a group and it doesn’t feel right, you may want to try again later or try another group.
Marisol, cancer survivor: “After treatment I found a support group to be an excellent way to keep up-to-date on the latest treatments. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary and invited our spouses to attend. There are 7 of us that are breast cancer survivors of 10 or more years.”
Religion and spirituality
Religion can be a source of strength for some people. Some find new faith when diagnosed with cancer. Others find their cancer experience strengthens their existing faith or their faith gives them newfound strength and hope. A minister, rabbi, other leader of your faith, or a trained pastoral counselor can help you find spiritual support. Some members of the clergy are specially trained to minister to people with cancer and their families. Some hospitals also have chaplains available.
Others who have never had strong religious beliefs may not feel an urge to turn to religion at this time. They may benefit from other types of spiritual work, such as meditation or daily practices such as silent observation, listening, or gratitude. Some people express their spirituality by spending time with nature, doing creative work, or serving others. These can become part of an open-ended spirituality that can infuse everyday life.
Other kinds of help you may need during treatment
Along with emotional support programs, other means of support may be available in your community such as:
- Home health nursing services
- Social services, such as counseling and financial aid
- Nutrition services that provide meals or allow you to talk with a registered dietitian
- Rehabilitation services offered by physical and occupational therapists
- Spiritual services from chaplains or religious figures in the community
Last Medical Review: 07/18/2012
Last Revised: 07/18/2012