Hopeful Benefits of Joining a Cancer Support Group

Lung Cancer Support Groups and Communities

Support groups can be a powerful resource for people with cancer offering many hopeful benefits that improve the quality of life of its participants. These cancer support communities can serve as a refuge for group members to share their struggles and triumphs while learning new ways to cope with treatment. A cancer diagnosis can cause a cascade of emotions within a person, including fear, anger, sadness, and hopelessness.

The treatment can be emotionally and physically exhausting and many patients suffer periods of depression exacerbated by feeling lonely and isolated. Some people living with cancer have strained personal relationships that become broken over the course of their illness, thus furthering their isolation. Thankfully, people living with cancer do not have to go through these struggles alone. Cancer support groups offer not only a place for you to share these intense emotions, but also a place for you to develop a new understanding of your disease and become empowered. In this article, you will learn about the many benefits of joining a cancer support group, including increased confidence in your treatment, improved self-esteem, and a new sense of optimism and control over your life.

Living with Cancer

Concerns that arise in people living with cancer include:

  • Fear of cancer recurrence
  • Isolation
  • Fear of death and dying
  • Stigmatisation
  • Fear of social rejection

Being diagnosed with cancer can be a traumatic experience that is accompanied by feelings of anxiety, fear, and a loss of control. Many people who are living with cancer feel a sense of social rejection and experience isolation. Patients newly diagnosed with cancer usually have little to no knowledge about cancer treatment and the specific type of cancer they have. This lack of knowledge can contribute to fear, especially of the unknown.

People living with or recovering from cancer also experience a wide spectrum of emotions, including fear of the cancer recurring. Many cancer patients who have recovered from cancer find that they are expected to talk about their treatment and recovery in an optimistic light while hiding any negative experiences from public view. Instead of reaching out, many cancer survivors will try to move on with their lives and not talk about what they went through. There are many reasons that people living with cancer choose to live in silence without processing the trauma:

  • Defensive desire to forget and move on
  • Fear of being a burden to their relatives
  • Not wanting to draw attention and evoke pity
  • Embarrassment
  • Stoicism, not wanting to be labeled as complainers
  • Belief that no one can truly understand them

Cancer patients who have broken this code of silence and opened up in cancer support groups have expressed relief in being able to talk about their inner thoughts, fears, and emotions. Some just did not believe they would be able to open up. It is a certain type of freedom to be able to express your deepest fears and anxieties without the expectation of having to stay positive and optimistic about living with cancer.

If you have been recently diagnosed with cancer, your need for support is considerably high. This need will continue throughout your treatment and recovery. One avenue of support is through social support groups. Many professionals have argued that engaging in social support communities helps to empower cancer patients, allowing them to manage the uncertainties of living with cancer. People who are involved in cancer support communities regain a sense of control over their lives, thus improving their emotional and physical well-being.

Becoming Better Informed

Many people seek to join cancer support groups for the information alone. Members of a support group will share information which enables participants to gain a better understanding of the cancer they are dealing with and different types of treatment available to them. Common categories of information that people share during meetings include:

  • Personal opinions
  • Information giving and/or seeking
  • Encouragement
  • Support
  • Personal opinions
  • Personal experience

People who choose education-discussion groups typically join face-to-face meetings moderated by medical or allied professionals. If you are newly diagnosed with cancer, these types of groups are an ideal place for you to work through intense emotions, stress, and negative feelings associated with diagnosis. The professional moderators provide an excellent source of information for treatment options and to answer any questions you may have. Furthermore, you can receive expert advice about the specific type of cancer you have, have access to journal articles relevant to your treatment, and talk with other people who are living through a similar experience as you. Patients felt that the information learned in these support groups helped them to feel they had the right knowledge to manage their disease.

Improved Social Well-Being

Being diagnosed with cancer can cause a person to experience a loneliness not felt before around family members and friends. While family and friends mean well, the fear that their loved one has such a serious disease can create a wall that feels like a separation. Other burdens related to this loneliness are feelings of not being fully understood, isolation, and rejection. Isolation is a big one. People living with cancer often feel that they have no one to talk to, especially about what they are going through with diagnosis and treatment.

Leading Lung Cancer Charities & Organizations

When you join a cancer support group, you may find that this loneliness subsides. Members of online support communities have stated they feel less lonely after participating in a group. What makes a difference for group members is the feeling that they belong to a community. Friendships are made between people with a shared diagnosis in which group members help each other through tough feelings and mutual understanding. Furthermore, peer group leaders and professional mediators of the groups play a key role in creating a sense of community in group sessions. Mediators provide valuable information and support while facilitating an atmosphere that is compassionate and safe. Lastly, there is a release of emotions allowed in a group setting that embraces acceptance without judgment. Cancer support group members find that they can cry, express anger, and be vulnerable in a safe space with complete acceptance.

Improved Relationship with Your Doctor

Cancer support groups can be a valuable source of information and education about the disease, including treatment options and what to expect during all stages of the illness. Members also learn about new development in medical treatments and ways to help themselves to cope with the side effects of treatment. Knowledge can be empowering to those living with cancer because it expands knowledge base and helps you be more informed during your appointments.

Patients who responded to a survey about the empowering effects of being involved in an online support forum have expressed that participation led to an improved relationship with their doctor. Many felt that they were more prepared for appointments and knew which questions to ask their doctor. Participants of support groups also felt that they could clarify their needs to their doctor better than before they joined the group.

Improved Self Esteem and Outlook on Life in General

Empowerment for patients with cancer is defined by a patient’s experience in feeling autonomous, with access to health information and the ability to make their own decisions related to their health, especially treatment. Cancer can impact your self-esteem and your self-image. Being diagnosed with cancer may make you feel like you have lost control. Hopelessness is an emotional reaction shared by people who have received a cancer diagnosis. However, people who have reached out for help in cancer support communities express a renewed sense of hope.

Empowering outcomes include:

  • Feeling more confident with relationship with their physician
  • Improved acceptance of illness
  • Feeling more confident with their treatment
  • Being better informed
  • Increased optimism and control over their future
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Enhanced social well-being

If you are struggling with negative feelings or feeling overwhelmed with cancer diagnosis, consider reaching out to a support group to regain a sense of control over your life. When you find a group you feel comfortable with, you may find yourself not only feeling like you belong to a community of understanding and acceptance but also develop a closer relationship with your healthcare and support team.

References

Danesi, G., et al. (2020, January 20). The isolation of cancer survivors. Journal of Cancer Care, 29(2). Retrieved from Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ecc.13194

Kim, E., et al. (2012, May). The process and effect of supportive message expression and reception in online breast cancer support groups. Psychooncology, 21(5), 531-540. Retrieved from PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3168721/

Klemm, P., et al. (2003, May) Online cancer support groups: A review of the research literature. Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 21(3). Retrieved from CIN: https://journals.lww.com/cinjournal/Fulltext/2003/05000/Online_Cancer_Support_Groups__A_Review_of_the.10.aspx?casa_token=eqmrcWmcjBUAAAAA:N1rU2MJvbpXXDCA_OsLfX-OtxRw-kyWIVzXPvqgwd7vl2K3vNGkHpcZRCjECqTqdk9zIJypkhL-uhWHVams448KGgw

Ussher, J., et al. (2006, June). What do cancer groups provide which other supportive relationships do not? The experience of peer support groups for people with cancer. Social Science & Medicine, 62, 2565-2576.

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