Stepping Up: Notable New Strides in Breast Cancer Support
What kind of support group or service fits your personality and needs? Explore the many types of help available
Like a fingerprint, each breast cancer diagnosis is unique. From the tumor’s type and progression to its treatment strategy and eventual outcome, no two women will share exactly the same experience. One thing they will share, however, is the fundamental need for breast cancer support groups throughout their journey.
A generation ago, when long-term breast cancer survival rates were low and less was known about the disease, women had limited resources for information and emotional support beyond their inner circle of physicians, family, and friends. The stigma of feeling different – set apart – naturally led to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in addition to the physical pain associated with the disease: especially without breast cancer support groups.
Thankfully, today’s breast cancer prognosis and survival rates are much greater, as are the options for women seeking assistance. From traditional face-to-face breast cancer support groups to phone helplines, individual therapy, online forums, social media, podcasts, blogs, and more, you’ll find a support match for virtually every personality.
In-Person Breast Cancer Support Groups Offer Strength in Numbers
If you value strength in numbers and crave peer connections, then in-person breast cancer support groups may be a perfect fit. Today’s sessions can strengthen your body, mind, and emotions, with research studies demonstrating lower levels of stress and anxiety and healthier immune systems for participating women.
Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, most breast cancer support groups offer services tailored to specific issues or interests. Some may be organized according to stage of cancer experience, acknowledging that concerns for the newly diagnosed will differ from the needs of someone with a recurrent cancer. Others may target young women with particular questions related to children and fertility.
Open membership breast cancer support groups allow you to attend meetings freely and can be a good choice if you are unable to commit to regularly-scheduled sessions. Patients seeking consistency and personal relationships, however, may prefer the structure of a registered group.
In this setting, you’ll commit to a certain number of sessions, getting to know other members and sharing more complete support. Another option is therapy breast cancer support groups. Led by a mental health professional, these group counseling sessions teach beneficial coping skills to those with particular issues – such as depression or divorce – surrounding their cancer experience.
Women seeking concrete medical information often are attracted to educational intervention groups. In these breast cancer support groups, health experts speak on a variety of cancer-related topics, such as intimacy or nutrition. Typically a question and answer session happens following the presentation.
If you find it hard to talk about your feelings, you may discover that discussing a specific topic makes it easier to open up. And having more information about your disease can provide a better sense of control in your daily life.
Breast Cancer Support Groups are a Personal Choice
Of course, face to face support groups may not be your thing. You may prefer to process your feelings privately or even anonymously. Or you may live in an area without any organized breast cancer groups. Fortunately, a world of options exists for people like you.
Even in smaller communities, individual counseling is usually available. There are psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, and other types of therapists who work exclusively with cancer patients. Your health care team can help identify those who may be a good match for your situation.
Check with your health insurance company, too, as it can be an unexpected source of support. Some will assign you a case manager who is also a nurse or social worker skilled in cancer care. Telephone breast cancer support is popular for those seeking personal connections and one-to-one support without leaving home.
Hosted by trained professionals, these support groups communicate by scheduled conference call and can be just as diverse as face-to-face groups. These can be a great option if you are physically confined yet still seek human interaction. Despite location and relative anonymity, many participants contact each other in between sessions to share individual support.
Your hospital or clinic can provide a list of telephone breast cancer support groups, and you can find lots of options through cancer-related Web sites like CancerCare and the Advanced Breast Cancer Community.
Breast Cancer Support Groups Help Caregivers, Too
Today many resources exist for those helping a wife, partner, mother, daughter, or friend through breast cancer. One example is Family and Friends Mentors, sponsored by After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Simply call to request a mentor whose partner or family member is close in age, has the same type of cancer, and is undergoing the same type of treatment. Support is available by telephone, email, letter, and occasionally in person.
Similar breast cancer support groups for patients, spouses, friends, and other family members are available through local hospitals and other organizations.
As the youngest casualties in the cancer war, children of adult patients require particular attention. And because kids are less able to verbalize their feelings, specialized breast cancer support groups for kids provide a safe place for them. They can express grief, ask questions, and meet other children with cancer in the family.
Professional facilitators encourage interaction through play, drawing, and games. Be sure to ask for their feedback about your child’s participation and any special family needs. And don’t forget to talk with your child’s school early on.
Breast Cancer Support Groups and the Road Ahead
It’s important to remember that a patient’s need for emotional support doesn’t end with their last treatment session. Fear of recurrence, dealing with the residual effects of treatment, and seeking a “new normal” make up the “post-treatment syndrome” that many women experience. Sharing with fellow survivors who have been there can help.
Ask someone on your health care team if there are any cancer survivor support groups in your community. Organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Cancer Support Community and SHARE offer telephone and email helplines staffed by trained peer counselors who are also breast cancer survivors.
By matching you with a survivor who had a similar diagnosis or life experience – you’ll talk with someone who really understands your concerns. These helplines also offer assistance to women in all stages of cancer care, their families, caregivers, and friends, so don’t forego these valuable resources if you haven’t yet reached your treatment goal.
Finally, many women find that one of the best ways to move on from their breast cancer experience is to help other women through their journey. Volunteering as a cancer survivor at the hospital where you were diagnosed and treated, or through a hotline or local cancer support group can be rewarding and emotionally healing. It allows you to translate a life-altering experience into a benefit for others.
You can start by searching for volunteer opportunities in your area through the Network for Good or the American Cancer Society.
Whatever resource you choose, it’s crucial to build a network of support during and after your treatment. A Google search will yield a wealth of information on breast cancer support groups. After all, no one understands breast cancer as well as another patient or survivor, and contact with others is one of the best ways to break through the isolation and despair of the disease.