Numerous clinical trials validate the benefits of a cancer support group. There is little doubt that individuals attending a support group live longer than those who do not. But even greater than that is the fact that those attending a support group have a substantially better quality life. And in my opinion, quality of life is the most important factor. With an improved quality of life, the chances of a longer life is obvious.
The question arises, with the preceding facts being undisputable, why do relatively so few cancer patients attend support groups. In my personal opinion, it is because so many different types of programs are labeled “support groups”. I’ll give my personal experience as an example.
While I was undergoing therapy my wife and I decided we wanted to attend a support group. After being told I was terminal, the quality of my life was not that great even though my current physician stated he would try to cure me. We discovered the largest church in our area offered “cancer support” groups twice monthly. We went to two. The first was a man lecturing to an audience of 50 or so on breast cancer. This had no interest to me. Some two weeks later we attended another program which was nothing but a bunch of little old ladies discussing their surgeries. This repulsed both of us. I knew support groups were not for us.
I believe many patients do not attend support groups because they happen into one and it is nothing like expected or needed. It turns them off so they never come back. If they found a cohesive group conducted by an experienced facilitator dealing with the type of problems they would face, they would eagerly attend and be benefited.
How can this be accomplished? Simply by defining correctly each program. Call it what it is. If it is a program on diet, say so. If it is on pain control, call it that. If it is a general cancer patient’s support group, then so be it. That way an individual will not be mislead and attend an educational group believing they are attending a support group.
The trials proving increased length of life for cancer patients are dealing with support groups. I have never heard anyone suggest going back to school will help a cancer patient. I am a great believer in prayer, but I have never heard a suggestion that attending Sunday school would enhance a patient’s life span. The same is true with Tai Chi, cooking or computers. Don’t get me wrong, I believe all programs that entertain or educate cancer patients are wonderful and should be attended, but they do not substitute for support groups – they may augment them.
I urge every cancer patient to look into each program before attending to find out exactly what it is. Do not go with mistaken anticipation. Attend all the education and entertainment sessions you want and can. But don’t miss the life extending option of attending a legitimate cancer support group.