A diagnosis of lung cancer can have a devastating effect on your life and the lives of those you love. After the initial shock has worn off, your emotions may run the gamut between sadness, anger, confusion, a sense of loss, fear and feeling very alone. Your family members and friends may feel helpless, anxious about the future, and wonder if they will ever have the “real you” back again.
While most of the treatment you receive will center on your physical symptoms and overall health, another important aspect of treating lung cancer is finding social and emotional support. Having a support system in place helps patients cope with uncertainty about the future, anxiety about treatment and its side effects and fears about death. Research has shown that psychologically adapting and adjusting to your disease is vital in enhancing quality of life and prolonging survival.
Much like in the case of a mesothelioma diagnosis, there are many sources of information and support available to lung cancer patients. Tapping into some of these resources will help you find those which are beneficial and meet your individual needs. Getting involved with a support network may help you feel less alone in your struggle, while providing information that will help you make informed decisions about your treatment options and assist you in coping with the physical and emotional challenges lung cancer brings.
You might be considering one-on-one support through a psychiatrist or counselor, but another option is a support group. Support groups generally take two forms. You may find one that you can attend in person or you may feel more comfortable joining an on-line group through the internet. Support groups can be specific to a disease such as lung cancer or it may be for persons with any type of a serious or terminal condition. The group may welcome families and friends, or it may be a group focusing only on patient concerns.
No matter which type of group format you prefer, however, the goals of each are the same. Support groups provide a confidential atmosphere where you can talk about the challenges you are facing and get information from other people who are experiencing the same thing. Sharing your emotions and experiences with other lung cancer patients can help to relieve the stress, anxiety and depression you might be feeling. In addition, many support groups offer access to the most up-to-date information regarding new and available treatments and are a great base of knowledge concerning your disease.
How Do You Choose a Support Group That is Right for You?
Your physician or health care team may have some suggestions or refer you to a group affiliated with a hospital or cancer organization such as the American Cancer Society. You can also find groups by doing research on the internet, through web sites like the Association for Cancer Online Resources (ACOR).
You may decide that you prefer a local group that holds regularly scheduled meetings. One advantage of this type of group is that you are able to have face-to-face discussions with people that live in your area and share the resources your community has to offer. Generally, this type of support group will be somewhat structured and is usually moderated by a health professional, such as an oncology nurse, psychologist or social worker. Because your local group may be associated with a hospital or other health facility, you may also be able to utilize social services or cancer support departments through those entities, such as a phone “buddy” list or hotline. Often, group members and their families form lasting friendships with others in their support group. Some disadvantages of local groups are that it may be small in size and the location, and the time and days of meetings may not always be convenient for you. Additionally, some people find it difficult to talk about upsetting or difficult subjects in person and with people they may not know well.
Some patients prefer on-line support groups, as they may be uncomfortable with losing their anonymity or may not feel physically able to attend meetings as often as they would like. One benefit of an on-line group is that you will be part of a national or even global community whose members have a wealth of experience. While there may be set “chat” times for the group, usually you can access the group and find members on-line at any time of the day or night. On-line groups, however, may not be facilitated which often lends a more casual, loose feeling to the experience, in contrast to the structure of a local support group. You also need to have access to a computer and some competence with the internet to get the full benefit of an on-line group.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by your diagnosis and treatment schedule and wonder if a support group is really something that can help you. One advantage of joining a support group is that you can often get information there that you might not find easily elsewhere. For example, other support group members may be able to tell you where to apply for financial assistance with your medical bills or can share practical advice on managing chemotherapy side effects or returning to your job after treatment. Some of the things you might be embarrassed to talk about with your family or friends can be freely discussed in your support group since group members truly understand exactly what you are going through.
Even if you are the type of person that generally feels you are able to cope with whatever life throws your way, utilizing the services a support a group offers is a positive step you can take to manage the emotional and social aspects of your cancer treatment. In fact, studies have shown that patients participating in support groups have less depression and anxiety, maintain and strengthen their marital and family relationships and improve their prognosis and quality of life.