After a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. There is so much to process: a roller-coaster of emotions, a barrage of information and choices to make, and an uncertain future. Often this is all accompanied by a massive sense of helplessness in the face of the massive challenges ahead and a feeling that no one around you understands.
For this reason, support groups can offer an excellent place to safely share your thoughts and emotions and get information or tips from others going through the same things as you.
There are a few kinds of support groups: informational groups, community/emotional, professional (led by a credentialed professional), formal (in a formal setting), informal (in an informal setting, such as a home or church), online, support groups for caregivers, bereavement/grief groups, and groups for men.
Informational (Educational) Groups
Informational groups exist primarily to help you gain access to the information you need to make the best decision possible throughout the process. Ideally these groups will help you consider things that you would not normally think of and to understand the terms and ideas being thrown at you. These groups can help gain confidence regarding the decisions you are making for yourself and your family.
Community/Emotional Support Groups
Community groups provide a safe place where you can meet others who are also battling breast cancer. You can share your fears, losses, successes and pains among peers facing the same things. These groups often help you to process the emotions that you may be feeling and help lessen the fear of burdening those around you. They also can lead to lifelong friendships.
Professionally Led Support Groups
Professionally led groups can be either informational or be for emotional support. However, they are always led by a credentialed professional, whether that be a medical professional, a counselor, a therapist, or another support provider.
Peer-Led Support Groups
These groups are the reverse of a professionally led group. A peer-led group can also be either informational or for emotional support but is led by someone whose expertise has been gained by experience, rather than credentials.
Formal or Informal
Formal and informal groups are differentiated by whether the group is held in a formal location dedicated to such groups. Formal groups are often held at hospitals, for example. Informal groups might be held at a person’s home, a coffee shop, or a place of worship.
Online Support Groups
Living far away from a hospital doesn’t need to end your search for support. Online communities are now some of the most accessible sources of support. There is a diverse array of such groups and they can offer a greater feeling of security to some women who may otherwise feel insecure sharing in groups or simply can’t fit a weekly meeting into their schedule. However, the downside can be that there is less commitment. People come and go. That means tight, consistent bonds are less likely to be formed.
Caregiver Support Groups
It’s not just the one with cancer that is hurting. While we recognize the need for cancer patients to receive support, caregiver support groups can also be a vital resource for those who are having a difficult time coping with supporting their loved one fighting breast cancer. It is very common for caregivers to struggle with many emotions and feel overwhelmed too. Connecting with others who are in a similar position can be important for both the cancer patient and the caregiver.
Men’s Support Groups
Men get breast cancer too. That’s why male support groups also exist, providing support for the often forgotten and unique needs of men who face a breast cancer diagnosis. For men, the process is further complicated by the stigma that men feel from being diagnosed with a predominantly female condition. Additionally, many men may not know how to express the emotions of a breast cancer diagnosis. These support groups can be an outlet to learn how to cope.
Grief groups are an invaluable resource for anyone who experiences the loss of someone to breast cancer. Perhaps, you have breast cancer yourself and you successfully pull through. Yet someone you met in the process does not. Or you may be the caregiver who has to let go as your loved one passes. Regardless of your relation to the disease, losing someone will affect you, and it’s okay to seek the support of others also in grief. These groups can help you work through the grief.
Regardless of the kind of group you choose or your reasons, finding support in this painful time can only be a step in the right direction. You are not alone and you deserve support and information to get through this season of your life and make the best choices you can.