Battling cancer might be a difficult journey. While the loved ones (family and friends) usually offer their support, they cannot grasp what you are going through…
While each journey is unique, sharing your struggles with someone going through the same illness may allow you to feel less alone, improve your well-being and feel more hopeful about the future.
Cancer support groups were created based on the idea that they will enable people with similar difficulties to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. In addition, research has shown that such groups give cancer survivors a sense of belonging, normalize the illness, and give practical and emotional support.
Different Types of Cancer Support Groups
There are different types of cancer support groups. Such groups can be facilitated either online or in person; be led by a licensed professional or peers.
Professionally led support groups usually must follow specific standards, ensuring the highest level of confidentiality and safety for the group members. A common misconception about professionally led groups is the assumption that group work can replace individual therapy. While the facilitators are usually social workers and psychologists, group work is not the same as individual therapy. They must follow a group’s direction, pace, and dynamics instead of focusing on one person. There is no better or worse approach; however, each person needs to find what works best.
Peer support groups are led by trained peers who have gone through the cancer journey themselves. Such groups offer a safe environment to share concerns and provide a sense of community. In addition, peer-led support groups serve as educational and informational platforms for cancer survivors and their family members. Such groups come in different forms, such as online forums, message boards, social media, and in-person and online groups.
Benefits of Cancer Support Groups
One of the main benefits of cancer support groups is information sharing. Cancer diagnosis and treatment-related side effects might be scary; therefore, sharing experiences of what to expect and what to ask doctors can help navigate patients through the cancer journey.
In addition, such groups can allow people to feel identified and understood by others and speak freely without embarrassment. Hearing that someone is going through the same may reduce the sense of loneliness going through the disease and may result in confidence in managing and overcoming difficult symptoms or side effects.
Some members might remain in the group for years knowing that their guidance could help others to go through something they have experienced before and provides them with a sense of belonging and being a part of something bigger. Also, several studies have reported that cancer support groups can reduce depression and anxiety and improve quality of life.
How to Find Support Groups
Start with your healthcare provider by inquiring about cancer support groups available within the healthcare system. Then, explore local non-profits and cancer survivorship organizations. Local public authorities (e.g. social assistance units of municipalities) might help you find the umbrella non-profit cancer patient organization. These might guide and recommend you the particular support group that fits you best and is nearest to you.
Cancer support groups have demonstrated improvement in managing cancer journey and overall quality of life. Of course, if someone finds such groups not helpful or experience distress being part of them, it is better to find other forms of support like reading literature, individual stress management or psychological therapy. Hence, finding the right fit for your cancer journey and exploring different options is essential.
Join our Online Support Community
In addition to the resources mentioned above, we would like to invite you to join our European Network of Cancer Survivors Online Cancer Support Group on Discord.
This community offers a welcoming space for cancer patients and survivors across Europe to connect, share experiences, and find emotional support.
By joining our Discord server, you can access a diverse and inclusive network of individuals who understand your journey and are ready to offer their insights and encouragement. Click here to join our growing community today or the button below and find the support you’ve been looking for!
- National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Cancer Support Groups. 2019. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/support-groups#:~:text=Support%20groups%20can%3A,problems%20at%20work%20or%20school (accessed February 9 2023).
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- Madormo C. Cancer Support Groups and Communities. 2021. https://www.verywellhealth.com/cancer-support-community-5094149 (accessed February 9 2023).
- Smith E, Schaab D. How to Choose a Support Group for Cancer Patients That’s Right for You. 2021. https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/02/support-group-for-cancer (accessed February 23 2023).
- Schapira L. Why Peer Support Is Important for People Coping With Cancer. 2017. https://www.cancer.net/blog/2017-06/why-peer-support-important-people-coping-with-cancer (accessed February 10 2023).
- Jablotschkin M, Binkowski L, Markovits Hoopii R, Weis J. Benefits and challenges of cancer peer support groups: A systematic review of qualitative studies. Eur J Cancer Care 2022; 31(6): e13700.
- Bender JL, Babinski S, Wong G, et al. Establishing best practices in cancer online support groups: protocol for a realist review. BMJ Open 2021; 11(11): e053916.