September 01, 2011

Do Cancer Support Groups Work For You?

By Kairol Rosenthal

During my stint with cancer, I’ve attended both thyroid cancer and young adult cancer groups.  They ranged from excellent to abysmal.  Here are six tips I’ve come up with for making the most out of a support group experience. I’m curious if you’ve ever tried them:

1. Contact the leader first to see if it’s a good match for you. Ask if participants have a similar disease type or variation as you, what stage of their disease are they in, if the focus is emotional support or swapping practical medical coping strategies. If age, relationship status, race and ethnicity and other personal factors are important to you, ask about the demographics of the group.

2. Try a few meetings. Sometimes groups vary hugely from meeting to meeting depending on who is there and what issues are coming up.  Give it more than one shot.

3. Go out on a limb. If you want to discuss an issue that nobody is talking about, be daring and bring it up yourself.  Many support group participants are often waiting for that one person to talk about the elephant in the room.

4. Find your wonder twin. Sometimes a support group is a great place to meet one person who you really connect with.  It is perfectly fine for you to ditch the support group and continue to meet for one-on-one support with each other over coffee.

5. Chose a format that’s right for you. Telephone, online support groups, social networking groups, one-on-one peer support through matching organizations. People have even told me that reading Everything Changes was their support group.  If one format of support group isn’t right for you, find one that is.

6. Don’t feel guilty or badly if you are not a support group person. The point is to get support if you need it and it doesn’t have to always come from a group.  I personally find better support through my friends who do not have cancer than I do through organized support groups of people my own age living with my disease.  I’m okay with that.

Have you ever attended a support group?  What made it either good or not so hot? Got any ‘support group success tips’ to add to the list?

Check out my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, it’s like a portable, paperback support group.

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