Time and commitments shift to attending many appointments, adopting a “foreign language” to understand the diagnosis and treatments, establishing new relationships with medical personnel, and facing reactions of family, friends, or coworkers. Often cancer launches you on a roller coaster of unsettling and sometimes conflicting emotions: disbelief, acceptance, fear, hope, sadness, gratitude... At times it may feel overwhelming and lead to wondering, “Do other people react this way?”
A support group can be helpful, where you’ll meet with peers who “get it,” to share experiences, and support one another, a place for empowerment and encouragement. People facing cancer, and/or their family members, have the opportunity to speak openly about their personal challenges, stories of healing, and living within limits, sometimes inspiring others to enhance their coping with cancer. Through the guidance of a professional facilitator, group participants share information, practical tips, and express feelings and concerns in a safe environment where individuals’ opinions are respected and the information that’s disclosed remains confidential within the group. Bill comments, “I come to the group because it helps to have support from people who know what it is like to have cancer. They really understand my concerns.”
Participants can be newly diagnosed, in treatment for a long time, in remission, or caregivers, bringing diverse experiences to the group. Some people who have acquired a wealth of knowledge about cancer or their treatments, can help educate their peers who are just starting out. Informational support might include topics such as managing treatment side effects, self-care, finding resources, exercise and diet, educational opportunities or websites.
Practical suggestions are often raised to help members with all aspects of dealing with cancer. It’s quite common to discuss and problem-solve ways to improve communication with loved ones or health care professionals. Participants may offer their own approaches to managing anxiety or stress, restructuring life priorities, or living with uncertainly, which can help others learn strategies and gain fresh perspectives on coping with cancer.
Difficult emotions are a natural part of the cancer journey. Emotions can become less intense and more easily managed when they are expressed. Some people may find that their family or friends don’t understand their feelings, or worry that they might be a drain on loved ones. Maybe family or friends just aren’t available. Emotional support involves being able to discuss issues without being judged or the fear of burdening others. In a support group, people sometimes share tears, or laughter; after all, laughter is good medicine! People who consistently attend a support group may develop meaningful connections and even lasting friendships with those on a similar path. Through great courage, compassion and understanding, people help one another focus on living fully with cancer. Anne reflects on her experience, “We share many things in group...information...sadness...but most importantly, we share our joy of life.”
Faustine Comstock, L.C.S.W., oncology social worker, facilitates the El Camino Hospital Cancer Support Group, which is free and open to any adults or family members who are affected by cancer, regardless of where they receive their care. Meetings are held the Second and Fourth Thursday of each month from 6:00-7:30pm in the Taft Healing Space, Oak Pavilion, 2505 Hospital Drive, Mountain View. For more information, please call the Cancer Center at 650-988-7519.