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Breast Cancer Support Groups

  • Benefits of Joining a Group

  • When a doctor delivers a diagnosis of cancer, patients and their families naturally seek the medical care that best meets their needs. But they would also be wise to search out another resource that can be invaluable: support groups.

    Support groups, which often meet in hospitals, can offer both practical information and emotional nurturing to patients and caregivers alike. And even those who have lost a loved one to the disease can find comfort in groups that focus on bereavement.

    Most importantly, support groups provide a safe environment where members can freely express their thoughts and feelings without having to worry about upsetting a concerned family member or friend. Support group participants not only have an opportunity to vent about their fears, they can share their joy and hope as well – or simply talk about jobs, children and other life issues that do not center on the disease. At the same time, most groups are structured so that anyone who does not feel up to sharing does not have to do so. They can simply sit and listen if they choose.

    Patients who participate in support groups report that they often pick up useful tips from each other about treatment and medical options. They can also cry – and laugh – with group members about the common challenges they all face.

    For caregivers, support group meetings can offer a welcome respite from their responsibilities. Often, these family members or friends can be so focused on taking care of the patient that they neglect to take care of themselves. Support groups specifically designed for caregivers can help them find ways to meet their own needs – whether by letting them air their frustrations and triumphs, or by providing information on useful resources.

    Bereavement or grief groups also play an important role in helping families cope with losing a loved one to cancer. For one thing, participants learn firsthand that other people deal with the grieving process in different ways – and at different speeds. Rather than being told that they should “move on” or stop talking about loved ones, participants in bereavement groups give others ample time to work through grief at their own pace.

    The structure of groups can vary. Some meetings are facilitated by licensed therapists, while others may be led informally by group members themselves. Groups often incorporate checking in with each other, meditation for relaxation and/or guest speakers. Speakers may range from nutritionists to hair stylists who can advise group members about buying wigs or hats (after possible hair loss from treatment regimines).

    While the types of meetings and agendas may differ, all support groups offer a sense of community and connection to others, so members do not have to feel isolated in the face of a potentially life-threatening illness. As support group members commonly say, “No one has to do this alone.”

    Sharon Fernekees-Jeans, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), is manager of social work services at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. She can be reached at (510) 728-1614.

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