Support Groups: Practical Advice, Shared Insight
It's no surprise that Deborah Steele, MA, Manager of Support Services Programming, encourages patients with cancer and their families to consider participating in one of the Cancer Center's support groups. These regularly scheduled groups are open to all patients with cancer, regardless of where or when they have received treatment, and are offered free of charge. While some groups are limited to patients with cancer only, most of the Cancer Center's support groups welcome spouses, family members, and friends.
"As a 14-year survivor of cancer, I've found that support groups are like another family," says Steele. "As much as my true family loved and supported me, I received a different kind of understanding from others going through the same experience. It's pretty amazing how unrelated individuals sharing a common path of illness can develop some very strong bonds."
Support groups are facilitated by experienced Cancer Center staff members who make a long-term commitment to support patients in this format. "A skilled facilitator creates a kind of sacred space for the group, outside of the day-to-day ordinary life," says Steele.
Lenny Gibson, a clinical psychologist by training, co-facilitates the Head & Neck support group with Deb Steele. Gibson, himself a survivor of neck cancer, has been facilitating the group since its inception, and claims that he gets as much if not more than what he gives. Gibson encourages people to avail themselves of support groups. "My background, as well as my experience with my illness, has shown me the benefit of these groups. To be with others who have been through the same stuff is very powerful."
Research bears out the effectiveness of support groups. Studies show that support group participants can experience increased energy, less depression and fatigue, and an enhanced sense of well-being. "When participants get to talk about what they've gone through and describe what they've found helpful, they offer ideas to others and also receive new insights themselves. In sharing their stories, patients can see their inner strength and how resourceful they've been," Steele says.
Education and providing up-to-date information on new treatments, drug regimens, surgical procedures, and complementary therapies provide the focus for some groups. There is often a guest speaker who is a professional practitioner or previous patient. Even with a planned program, however, there is always time in the group for sharing, checking in, and catching up with one another. And, everything that is said or discussed is confidential and doesn't leave the room.
To learn more about cancer support groups at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, contact the Cancer Help Line at (800) 639-6918 or view a list of support groups.