In Search of Support

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In Search of Support

Find comfort in others going through the same experience

A diagnosis of cancer, diabetes or another serious disease is daunting, and your first plan of action is clear: Make sure you’re seeing a team of top-notch medical professionals. The next step, however, is to make sure you have a strong support network, too.

Patients and their loved ones and caregivers can benefit from attending support groups. Spending time with others who are going through similar experiences, exchanging information, educating yourself and reaching out to give and receive emotional support are vital parts of treatment and recovery.

Finding Comfort and Knowledge

“Hearing others talk about their experiences [with cancer] can be healing,” says Courtney Davis, M.S.W., medical oncology social worker at City of Hope. “Knowing that someone else is walking the same path and has the same concerns is comforting.”

The Institute of Medicine declared emotional and social support as essential components of comprehensive cancer care. Research shows that cancer patients who participated in support groups were less depressed and less anxious, developed better relationships with their caregivers and increased their knowledge of their illness.

Some cancer patients start attending support groups right after their diagnosis while others wait until entering the survivorship phase before going to their first meeting. It all depends on when patients feel comfortable, according to Davis, who facilitates a support group for breast cancer patients at City of Hope.

Support Group Myths Dispelled

While groups offer a place for patients and caregivers to share their feelings and fears, new attendees don’t need to worry about the groups being endless complaint sessions. They’re actually a place to express fears and share hope.

“It’s nice for [patients] to have a place to talk about their worries without feeling like they’re burdening their loved ones,” explains Davis. “These aren’t negative groups. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement and helpful advice. It’s a supportive environment.”

Ned Toomey attended a support group at City of Hope for caregivers after his wife was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2008.

“Hearing people get up and talk about their situations was helpful,” he says. “I wanted to learn all I could about cancer and how other people were coping.”

Jo Ann Namm, M.S., child life program manager at City of Hope, leads a support group for children whose parents are undergoing cancer treatment. She believes that groups can help attendees talk about such hard-to-discuss topics.

“It opens up conversations,” notes Namm. “We teach positive coping skills and let kids know that it’s OK to have their feelings. It’s so helpful for them to know that there are other kids out there whose parents have cancer.”

A Group for Everyone

The options for support groups are as varied as the groups themselves. Some are offered for limited periods — the group Namm facilitates for parents and children runs for six weeks at a time — while others, such as the one Davis facilitates for breast cancer patients, are ongoing. Support groups might be limited to patients or caregivers or be open to both.

Finding the right support group can be as simple as asking doctors or other patients for referrals, or checking in at City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center (or its website, www.cityofhope.org/billercenter). Facilitators are available to answer questions and provide details about the group by phone through the Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at 626-256-HOPE (4673), ext. 3-CARE (2273).

“It’s worth it to come to one meeting and see what the group is about,” says Davis. “A lot of people find that helping others helps them heal themselves.”

— Jodi Helmer

Support Groups

Find a complete list of support groups at www.cityofhope.org by searching “support groups.”

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