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What to consider in a cancer support group

Tina, a breast cancer survivor, longed to share her fears, hopes and dreams with other women as she looked to her future.

Andrew was mainly interested in getting the latest news on lymphoma and learning practical ways to cope with treatment.

Jerry wasn’t ready for face-to-face meetings, yet he felt the need to connect with other colon cancer patients.

The instinct to bond with others going through a similar experience is age old. Somehow knowing one is not alone is a source of comfort and inspiration. Yet as Tina, Andrew and Jerry can attest, people with cancer have varied needs when it comes to seeking support outside their circle of family, friends and healthcare providers.

Fortunately, there are support groups to suit just about every personality. They range from a formal, structured setting in which a professional speaker takes the floor to a small group that meets in someone’s living room. The group can be led by a healthcare professional, a clergy member or other professional facilitator or simply be run by the members themselves. Family members may or may not be invited to participate.

Some groups focus on education, while others put an emphasis on emotions, helping people with cancer sort through their anxieties and devise solutions for daily challenges, such as how to overcome nausea, how to tell your sister you have cancer or how to get to your chemotherapy session.

Support groups may address a particular cancer, such as prostate or breast cancer; or target people who have had a specific procedure, such as a mastectomy or a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box). Some forums are age-appropriate, designed, say, to appeal to teens or young adults. For people like Tina, who prefer to remain anonymous, on-line chat groups, telephone conference groups or round-robin letter-writing groups organized by trustworthy associations, such as the American Cancer Society, can fill a need.

Even people with a strong network of family and friends say support groups are a wonderful place to release pent-up feelings without burdening loved ones. If you’d like to try a support group, think carefully about your needs, then ask your doctor or call the hospital for help in finding the group for you.