The words "you have cancer" or "your child has cancer" are frightening and overwhelming. It's important to remember that most people experience some kind of sadness or helplessness when confronted with cancer. Counseling and support groups may help you feel less afraid and allow you to focus on yourself and getting better.
There are many kinds of support groups and counseling available to you- whether you are a person with cancer, a caregiver, a friend or family member. Here are some questions to consider when you are looking for counseling or support group:
Do you prefer individual counseling or a support group?
You may be looking to speak one-on-one with a professional. There are oncology social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists to help you sort through your many complex emotions during this time. Gilda's Club provides free support groups accross the country and CancerCare provides individual counseling.
What kind of a support group would you prefer ?
Do you want to meet people face-to-face in your community at a scheduled time ? Would you prefer the anonymity of an online support group ? There are many different kinds of support groups to meet individual needs and preferences.
Would you benefit from a "buddy" program, where you can talk to someone who has had similar experience to you ?
These kinds of programs are generally not overseen by professionals but will connect you with peer support from someone who's been there. Immerman Angels is the best such program I know about.
What is the difference between peer-to-peer support and professional counseling?
Just because you and another person have the same type of cancer doesn't mean that your experiences will be exactly the same. In peer-to-peer support, you listen to other people's experiences and share your own.
Professional counseling concentrates on your individual situation, taking into account your whole life. In a way, professionally or volunteer moderated support groups, like those run by Gilda's Clubs are the best of both worlds." You can still learn about others in a similar situation, but the professional helps you apply what you have learned to your particular situation.
How do you find the right support group ?
- Many hospitals and local treatment centers provide face-to-face support groups. Check the schedule to see if one works with your or your loved one's treatment schedule.
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about your feelings. Doctors understand better than ever before that patients are concerned about good quality of life as they go through treatment and they can provide referrals for counseling or suggest medicines for anxiety and depression if necessary.
- Gilda's Clubs accross the country provide free support groups for everyone affected by cancer - patient, caregiver, friend, family, survivors. Look up a local chapter in your area.
- CancerCare provides free face to face, telephone and online support moderated by professional oncology social workers.
- The NJ Self Help Clearinghouse is another source of guidance for your support group needs relevant to cancer or any other healthcare or dissability issue.