Coping with Cancer – Benefits of Joining a CANSA Support Group
Cancer Survivors (patients / those in remission), Caregivers and loved ones may be fearful of sharing how they truly feel, as they fear misunderstanding and rejection. However, there are clear benefits to joining a support group, whether face-to-face or online, which may make it worth the risk.
Cancer Survivors need to be supported and encouraged throughout their cancer journey: dealing with the shock of diagnosis and sharing this with loved ones; coping with short / long term side effects of treatment, such as loss of hair, joint and muscle aches, memory loss or fatigue; or permanent loss (for example the loss of a limb or breast), or treatment resulting in infertility, or not being able to have children.
They need an outlet for emotions and a caring environment where inner healing and acceptance of their ‘new normal’ can take place. Patients in remission are often fearful that the cancer may return after treatment, and are particularly anxious before routine, post treatment check-ups, blood work and scans.
Cancer impacts all facets of a Survivor’s life, including social interaction, relationships and perception / performance in the workplace. There are also financial implications to deal with. The collective experience can be so difficult that patients need to be treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD).
Caregivers are the soldiers fighting behind the scenes for their loved ones / patients. They are often the unsung heroes of a cancer Survivors’ journey, and more often than not, are thrown into this new role unexpectedly and with no “formal” training. It is important that they too feel supported and are equipped with information / skills to support their loved one / patient.
Loved ones often feel helpless in the face of their loved one’s diagnosis. Although they may not be the primary Caregiver, or have cancer themselves, their lives are turned upside down as the reality of side effects of treatment and deterioration of quality of life for the cancer patient become more evident. They also need to have access to information which can enable them to support their loved one practically, and prepare them for the roller-coaster ride that is the cancer journey.
Benefits of Support Groups
1. A Sense of Belonging
Members meet others who have walked in similar shoes. Shared experiences lead to meaningful connections with other members, sometimes even beyond the support group. Members feel more able to share their highs and lows with fellow members, without fear of judgement – the group is a safe place to vent, share coping strategies or encourage others.
2. Access to Information
Facilitators are able to provide members with general information related to coping with a diagnosis, cancer, types of cancer, and treatment. Queries are also directed to experts within CANSA if necessary.
3. Referral to Support Services
Facilitators refer members who may need wigs, prostheses, medical equipment hire, stoma products / care, lymphoedema management, wound care, home based care or individual counselling to their nearest CANSA Care Centre. Care Centre staff may refer to experts in the community, for example, where physical rehabilitation is required.
4. Knowledge of Patient Rights
Members may direct queries regarding access to healthcare / treatment – facilitators direct queries to CANSA’s Advocacy Department, firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Positive Outlook
Those affected by cancer endure a lot of stress and anxiety. Participating in a support group helps those battling depression and isolation, as they are regularly encouraged and may feel motivated to keep on with treatment, for example, despite difficulties. Knowing that they are not alone, and that others are fighting alongside them, helps members to have a more positive attitude, even in the face of uncertainty.
CANSA’s Online Support Groups & Resources
We know that cancer Survivors, Caregivers and loved ones may not always be in a position to participate in a face-to-face support group, due to transport or health related issues. We provide the following online support groups & resources and have facilitators per online support group that provide information to members, or refer them for support as required.