Hearing that 6-letter word “cancer” for the first time is daunting and devastating. However, living with cancer, beyond the initial diagnosis, can prove to be even more challenging. You are thrust into this new, foreign world, full of unchartered territory that is littered with fear, uncertainty and more questions than there are answers. It can feel lonely and isolating, even within the familiar walls of your own home and family. The new, unwanted and uninvited presence of cancer can make us feel like strangers and imposters in our lives. Finding connection and community through a cancer support group can be an answer to a prayer that you never knew you had.
When someone we love is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family unit is affected. Each member of the family will experience the process and journey differently but it’s important to recognize the necessity of developing a support system that meets the individual needs of those touched by cancer’s presence.
Cancer is not a “one size fits all disease.” Because of cancer’s diversity, the populations it affects, and its widespread reach, cancer support groups have evolved to accommodate and serve in a variety of different ways.
When my mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma brain cancer, the idea of a support group never crossed my mind. We were surrounded by family and friends that loved us, we had a church that supported us, so WHY would we need another obligatory time commitment to attend a support group, full of strangers that were sick…that had cancer. My immediate thought was, “not for us!”
However, two years into our cancer journey, my church started a cancer prayer support group. After walking in tandem with my mom along her brain cancer journey, I realized the need for community; a supportive outlet outside my own circle of family and friends. I decided I would show up and take it for a test run.
Two years later, this group has become an integral part of my inner support circle. It has become a tremendous, unexpected blessing in my life.
How Can a Cancer Support Group Help You?
Provides a Community of People with Shared Experiences:
A cancer support group is a great place to find people with similar circumstances and experiences. Participating in a support group can give you the sense that you truly aren’t alone on your journey despite feelings of loneliness and isolation that you might be experiencing around the people that you love and trust. Beautiful friendships are often formed within cancer support groups. Sometimes the friendship is just for a season and other times, the bond lasts a lifetime.
Connection to People, Resources and Services:
Cancer support groups can be a hidden gem along your cancer journey. Many groups are full of people who have real experiences in the trenches that can prove to be valuable assets along your cancer journey. Becoming a part of a cancer support group will give you the opportunity to not only connect with other people but will connect you to valuable advice, resources and services that can support you and your family along the way. Cancer affects every aspect of your life. Through participation in a support group, you will be exposed to physical, emotional, relational, financial, logistical and even spiritual support and resources.
Opportunity to Be Open, Honest:
Joining a cancer support group can provide you with a safe, non- judgmental space to just be yourself. Participating in this kind of group gives you the opportunity to own and experience your true feelings about your cancer experience without filtering them for the benefit of others close to you. Attending these group sessions will allow you to let down your guard and take off your “masks” that you might put on in front of family and friends to protect them and yourself. There is tremendous value in the conversations that take place during these gatherings. By sharing your emotions and experiences with the group, you are helping yourself heal while contributing to the healing of others.
Are Cancer Support Groups Your Jam?
Finding a cancer support group that meets your individual needs is certainly not a “one size fits all” approach. There are so many different kinds of support groups, it is important to find the one that best addresses your unique circumstances and desires. The process of finding the right fit may seem daunting, even intimidating but I guarantee it will be worth the effort in the end.
· Determine Your Preferences: size, location, time of day, frequency of meetings, secular or religious, cancer specific, are caregivers included? Professional or layman leadership?
· Remain Open Minded: Contact facilitator or other members of the group before attending. You can ask questions, dispel myths or alleviate any fears or misconceptions you have prior to attending your first meeting.
· Keep Expectations in Check: What do you want out of this experience? Commit to not making judgements hastily. Commit to attending 2-3 times before making a final decision whether the group is right for you.
· Input Affects Output: aka you get out of it what you put into it.
My cancer support group has truly become a home away from home for me. Matter of fact, I recently stepped into the coordinator/facilitator position for our group. I never would’ve envisioned this turn of events several years ago, when my mom was first diagnosed.
The encouragement, prayer and emotional support that I receive during our meetings has helped me navigate my own journey as a cancer caregiver.
Cancer support groups are as diverse as the cancers they represent. Finding the right fit for you or your loved one might involve some trial and error. It is my prayer that you will not give up until you find one that feels like “home.”
Cancer affects every aspect of your life. Navigating the highs, lows and straightaways of a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming and lonely.
Remember…you never have to pedal alone!