Most of you know that I am a huge fan of good support groups. I am lucky enough to facilitate five ongoing groups (one for women newly diagnosed or currently in adjuvant treatment for breast cancer, one for women with Stage IV breast cancer, two for women who have completed treatment, and one for women with GYN cancers) and love them. I love the honesty, the affection, the incredible support and commitment that women give to one another. Most of the time, I don't have to do much but listen and provide the time and space.
Some years ago, there was a lot of press about a study from Stanford that suggested that women, in a group, who had Stage IV breast cancer lived longer than women who did not participate in a group. As much as I wanted that to be true, I was skeptical, and, indeed, those results could not be replicated in later studies. However, there is no question that quality of life is very positively impacted, and many women make close friendships that last much longer than their active group time.
If you are looking for a group, you should call nearby hospitals or cancer centers to ask about their offerings. Local American Cancer Society offices generally maintain lists of groups in their area. In addition to location and time, ask who comes to the group (some breast cancer groups, for example, are open to anyone with the diagnosis, and you may not want to be in a group with women who are many years out or who are very ill) and who facilitiates it.
Here is the beginning of an article from CancerNet about groups and a link to read it all:
Reasons to join a support group
Hearing the news of your cancer diagnosis triggers a strong emotional response. While some people experience shock, anger, and disbelief, others may feel intense sadness, fear, and a sense of loss. A person may also feel lonely and isolated, as even the most supportive family and friends cannot understand exactly how it feels to have cancer.
Support groups offer the chance for people to talk about their experiences with others living with cancer. Group members can share feelings and experiences that seem too strange or too difficult to share with family and friends. The group experience often creates a sense of belonging that helps each person feel less alone and more understood. Sharing feelings and fears with others who understand may also help reduce stress.
In addition to sharing their feelings and experiences, support group members discuss practical information, such as what to expect during treatment, how to manage pain and other side effects of treatment, and how to communicate with health care providers and family members. Exchanging information and advice may help achieve a sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness.
Many studies have shown that support groups help people with cancer feel less depressed and anxious and more hopeful. Although support groups are not for everyone, people who benefit from support groups may find themselves better able to handle their emotions.