How to Choose a Breast Cancer Support Group That's Right for You
Which type is right will be driven by your personality, schedule, and needs.(ISTOCKPHOTO)There are lots of different breast cancer support groups out there—at local hospitals, cancer centers, community centers, churches, private homes—each with their own personality.
Shop around until you find one that's just the right fit, says Merijane Block, 55, who facilitates the Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS) support group (BaysNet.org) in San Francisco and has lived with breast cancer since her first diagnosis in 1991. To get a sense of what to expect, she suggests asking the following questions.
- Who's in charge? Some groups are led by fellow survivors (also known as peer-led or "leaderless" groups), some by experienced counselors, and still others by trained psychotherapists.
- Is it closed or drop-in? A closed group will have the same members at each session, which can be comforting and promote an ongoing intimacy and continuity. Drop-ins offer more flexibility, and the members can change from week to week and may be at disparate stations in their experience with the disease.
- Who shows up? Groups can be exclusive to one diagnosis (such as breast cancer) or open to all. They may be filled with newbies, women who are "post-treatment," those with recurrences and metastases, or a mix of all stages. Someone newly diagnosed may not be ready to see women dealing with end-of-life issues, and those with recurrences may find it tedious listening to women experiencing cancer for the first time. Similarly, some groups, like Block's, are aimed at the specific concerns and issues of younger women, while others cater to older women.
- What's discussed? A variety of concerns, ranging from the practical to the spiritual, arise in any given group session. Some groups focus more on resources (whether internal or those found in the wider community). Others deal with treatment decisions and interactions with doctors. Still more are centered on the emotional aspects of the experience, and some are based on the issues of spirituality and religion that arise in the context of a life-threatening disease.
For more information on finding support, visit our support groups Web guide.