Support groups provide a way to meet other people with cancer and/or
family members to share concerns and coping strategies. Support groups
are usually organized in one of two ways: (1) open-ended sessions,
where you can attend as many meetings as you find helpful; (2)
time-limited sessions, where the same group members agree to meet
together for a fixed number of sessions. If you join either type of
group, you are always free to stop attending if you don't find it
Support groups for people with cancer and their families are set up in
a number of different ways. Sometimes all members will have the same
diagnosis, such as a group for women with breast cancer. Sometimes
everyone will be in the same age range, such as a group for young
adults with cancer. Some groups are for people with cancer only or for
family members only -- or people with cancer and families can be part
of the same group. No matter how the group is organized, the basic
goal is to help people learn more about dealing with cancer-related
Some people are unsure about what happens in a support group. Usually
members will talk about their concerns and problems and share ideas
about how to cope. If you are not naturally a talkative person or are
uncomfortable with groups, it is okay to be quiet and just listen. It
takes a while for most people to feel comfortable, but eventually the
trust that group members begin to feel will make it easier to
participate. People who use support groups say they benefit from
learning how others have approached problems -- problems that can seem
pretty overwhelming to someone new to the experience. Cancer can make
people feel isolated from the rest of the world. It often helps to
know that others have similar thoughts and feelings and that you are
not that different after all.
Support groups offer many solutions to common problems compared with
support from an individual, which provides one person's solutions. You
are the best judge of what is helpful. If one method does not help,
consider trying another.
HOW SUPPORT GROUP SERVICES CAN HELP
- Put you in touch with others with similar experiences.
- Allow you to share information about ways to handle such problems
as answering children's questions, dealing with upset family members,
what to tell your employer, and how to talk with your doctor.
- Allow you to share with others new to the experience your
solutions to problems.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Ask your doctor, nurse, or social worker about hospital- or
community-sponsored support groups, or call your local American Cancer
Society or the Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER).
- Call the Self-Help Institute Clearing House (215-482-4316). This
is a directory of over 450 national self-help groups in Pennsylvania
for various health related problems.
- Support groups are provided by hospitals and community agencies,
such as family service agencies, private counseling groups, the
American Cancer Society, or sometimes by individual cancer patients
organizing a group of their own. If a hospital or agency does not
currently have a group program that meets your needs, ask if you can
help start one.
- Groups are usually offered free of charge.
- Support groups are just that -- they offer support and the sharing
of ideas. They are not psychotherapy sessions.
- Groups can either be organized and run by a cancer counselor or by
people with cancer, without professional help. The type of problem you
are dealing with may determine which kind of group to attend. Support
groups organized by patients offer concern, sharing of ideas, and
encouragement. Those same benefits apply to a professionally organized
group. The advantage of a professionally organized group is that the
needs of all members can be addressed. The professional does not tell
group members what to do, but tries to make sure that everyone finds
solutions to problems. Again, you are the best judge of what may be
the most helpful.
- Depending on your concerns, individual counseling may be more
helpful than joining a support group, or vice versa. If you are unsure
about what kind of help you may need, consult with your hospital
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute