A breast cancer diagnosis can turn your world upside down. Suddenly, everything in your life revolves around one thing: stopping your cancer.
Instead of going to work or school, you’re visiting hospitals and doctor’s offices. Rather than hanging out with friends, you’re staying home and recovering from the emotional and physical stresses of your treatment.
Cancer can feel completely isolating. Though friends and family rally around you, they might not know exactly what you need or truly understand what you’re going through.
This is where a breast cancer support group can help. These support groups are made up of people who are undergoing breast cancer treatment — just like you. They’re held in person, online, and over the phone. A few cancer organizations also offer one-on-one support from breast cancer survivors for people who are newly diagnosed.
Some support groups are led by professionals — psychologists, oncology nurses, or social workers — who can offer practical advice on issues like how to deal with hair loss and other treatment side effects. Other support groups are led by breast cancer survivors.
A support group gives you a place to share your feelings, get advice, and vent without being judged.
How to find a support group
There are many different types of support groups and many places to find them. Support groups are held in:
- community centers
- churches, synagogues, and other places of worship
- private homes
Some groups are designed solely for people with breast cancer. Others provide support to spouses, children, and other caregivers. There are also support groups that cater to specific groups — such as men with breast cancer or women in a particular stage of cancer.
To find a breast cancer support group in your area, you can start by asking your doctor or social worker for a recommendation. Or you can search the internet. Also check out organizations like these, which host their own groups:
When you investigate support groups, ask the leader the following questions:
- What is your background? Do you have experience in working with people with breast cancer?
- How large is the group?
- Who are the participants? Are they newly diagnosed? In treatment?
- Do survivors and family members attend meetings?
- How often do you meet? Do I need to come to every meeting?
- Are the meetings free, or will I need to pay a fee?
- What topics do you typically discuss?
- Is it OK for me to stay quiet and observe in my first few sessions?
Visit a few different groups. Sit in on some meetings to see which group suits you best.
What to expect
Cancer support groups generally meet once a week or once a month. Often, you’ll sit in a circle to give everyone in the group the ability to interact. The leader will generally introduce the topic for that session and allow everyone to discuss it.
If you’re new to the support group, it can take some time to get used to sharing your feelings. At first, you might prefer just listening. Eventually, you should get to know the group well enough that you feel comfortable opening up about your experiences.
Finding the right fit
It’s important to make sure that the support group you choose meets your needs. Being surrounded by people who lift you up and comfort you can be very helpful during your cancer journey. But if your fellow group members are negative and pessimistic, they can bring you down and make you feel even worse.
Here are a few red flags that may mean your support group isn’t a good fit:
- Members tend to complain more than support each other.
- The group isn’t well-organized. Meetings aren’t consistent. The group leader often cancels, or members fail to show up.
- The leader pressures you to buy products or promises to cure your disease.
- The fees are very high.
- You feel like you’re being judged whenever you share your feelings.
If a support group is making you more upset or it just isn’t working out, leave it. Look for another group that better fits your needs.
How to get the most out of your support group
Whether you join an in person, online, or phone support group, showing up is the most critical part. Choose a group that works with your schedule, so you know you’ll be available to attend meetings.
Involve the other members of your care team. Let your doctor and social worker know that you’ve joined a support group. Ask them for advice on how to get the most out of the sessions. If your group allows family members to attend, bring along your partner, child, or any other loved ones who are involved in your care.
Finally, although a support group can be very helpful, don’t make it your sole source of emotional care. Also lean on family and friends, mental health professionals, and your doctor for advice and comfort during your treatment.