Facing breast cancer alone can be overwhelming. But facing it with others makes it easier. It’s because of that shared experience and sense of community that many breast cancer patients choose to take part in a support group.
These groups provide a safe space for both current patients and survivors to open up about their diagnoses and treatment experiences, ask questions, and talk about the ups and downs that come with a breast cancer diagnosis. It’s also a time for participants to offer encouragement and provide tips.
Both current patients and survivors benefit from participation in a support group. For current patients, it’s encouraging to see others who have faced a breast cancer diagnosis and are doing well after treatment. Participants can also get tips for dealing with chemotherapy and radiation – two of the most challenging aspects of breast cancer treatment.
For example, one of the participants in a group I led was nervous about going through chemotherapy and didn’t have any nearby family or friends to help. So one of our group members picked her up and brought her to her first appointment and sat with her while she received treatment. The group became her family and provided invaluable support as she went through chemotherapy.
For survivors, the main benefit is being in a safe space to voice fears and concerns. It’s often difficult for family and friends to relate to having breast cancer when they haven’t gone through it themselves. They might not understand that even if it was successfully treated, it’s still something survivors think and worry about. So it’s important to have a place to discuss these thoughts and fears with others who feel the same way.
Although there are many benefits to joining a breast cancer support group, they’re not for everyone. Ask yourself these questions before joining one:
- Am I ready to join a support group? If you were just diagnosed with breast cancer, you may want to wait to join a support group. Everyone’s journey is different and you need to understand your diagnosis and treatment plan before learning about what others are doing.
- What is the group’s focus? Some groups are only open to current patients and survivors and mainly discuss aspects of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. But others are also open to caregivers and spouses and may also discuss issues that pertain to these groups.
- Will I feel comfortable sharing with the group? Many support groups involve sharing with a group of 10-15 people. If you’re not comfortable sharing your experience, a support group may not be the right option for you. But it is important to find some source of support through this journey, whether friends, family, religious involvement or exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider, nurse navigator or social worker for suggestions about support resources in your area.
Edward-Elmhurst Health offers a Breast and Gynecological Cancer Networking and Support Group for female patients and survivors of breast cancer. Our group meets on the second Wednesday of every month and while we mainly focus on diagnosis, treatment and recovery, we do also discuss the emotional aspects of breast cancer, no matter where you are in your journey – stage 0 to stage 4. We also provide participants with resources that can help them through their journey.