Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Australia, taking an estimated 50,000 lives annually. However, survival rates are also improving – seven in 10 Australians are estimated to survive cancer five years after their diagnosis. It is estimated that over 150,000 people will receive a new cancer diagnosis in 2021.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience – not only for the person receiving it, but also for their loved ones and community.
It is normal to feel anger, anxiety, and disbelief. A diagnosis can have an impact on almost every aspect of your life – from outward appearance to financial status. It is important to take care of your mental health after diagnosis and during treatment in order to properly manage the psychological demands of treatment.
You might not feel ready to speak to a psychologist yet, or you may want to seek out people who have had similar experiences to you. Cancer support groups offer a safe space for people affected by cancer to share their experiences with others. Support groups offer emotional and social support, and some groups seek to increase awareness of new research in treatment by inviting guest speakers and researchers to present at group meetings.
Cancer support groups are a meaningful way to connect with other individuals and reduce the mental and emotional impact of a diagnosis. Participating in support groups can reduce social isolation and provide encouragement to those affected by cancer. You don’t even need to leave the house to participate in some groups – they are offered virtually or over the phone.
Don’t feel like chatting? Moderated online forums are also a great way to connect with others from the comfort of your home. Online forum participants can share links to the latest research and engage in discussions about their diagnosis and treatment with one another.
What Are Cancer Support Groups?
Cancer support groups are regular meetings between people affected by cancer or their family members to get together and share their experiences. The meetings can be in-person, online, or a mix of both. Support group meetings provide people affected by cancer with an outlet for their emotion and a listening ear from someone with a similar lived experience.
Some groups are only for those affected by a specific cancer, such as breast cancer, whereas others are open to people affected by cancer and their loved ones. It might be beneficial to seek out a group only for individuals with cancer first before deciding if the experience is right for you.
Speaking to another person with cancer for the first time can be a confronting experience, especially if you are both in different stages. However, cancer support groups aim to reduce the stigma around speaking out about a cancer diagnosis and
If you are not quite ready to speak to others about your experience and prefer one-on-one support, you can contact the Cancer Council for peer support by phone or participate in an online forum.
How Can I Benefit From Attending?
The benefits of social interaction from a support group – be it online or in person have been well-documented in literature. Social support groups help to improve the quality of life of patients’ and their families by reducing the impacts of depression and anxiety – both of which are common after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Expert Information About Latest Evidence
Support groups – especially those run in a hospital or clinic are often facilitated by a medical professional with experience in cancer intervention. They often have a good understanding of emerging evidence in cancer treatment and will be able to explain this information in simple language that is comprehensible to group participants.
If you’re looking to try a new treatment approach or looking for information about the latest evidence, these groups are a great place to start. These clinician facilitators can sometimes even point you in the right direction if you are looking to be involved in clinical trials for a particular treatment and explain the pros and cons of specific treatments.
Groups that are facilitated outside of clinics can also invite guest speakers to speak to them about specific treatment methods that group members have discussed. Some groups may even have “journal clubs” where they evaluate the latest research about cancer treatment and discuss its efficacy in the context of their own experiences – this is also an invaluable resource.
Reducing Social Isolation
The mental health impacts of cancer cannot be discounted. Support groups are a great way to reduce social isolation. Many people report feeling lonely and depressed after receiving a cancer diagnosis, and this tends to worsen over time as the isolation continues. Support groups provide regular social contact with other people in the community and is a great way to get out of the house and meet others.
Maintaining a positive attitude and optimism during treatment is crucial to success, and it is difficult to do so with the negative feelings and depression that often follows a cancer diagnosis. Attending a social support group and meeting people who have undergone successful treatment can increase feelings of optimism and hope, and contribute to better treatment outcomes.
Who better to speak to about the side effects of a treatment method or the best insurance provider? Members of your support group are likely to have experienced the same problems that you are experiencing after first receiving your diagnosis, and are more well-equipped to provide advice about any problems you may be facing.
Support groups can also provide reassurance and information about what to expect when starting a particular course of treatment. This can reduce feelings of anxiety and allow you to mentally prepare for any side-effects that may occur.
Although your doctor will inform you of the treatment efficacy and side effects before commencing treatment, you may find another person’s experience more relatable, especially if they are further in their treatment journey than you.
Where Can I Find Support Groups in Australia?
1. Cancer Council of Australia
The most popular and well-attended groups are organised by the Cancer Council of Australia. They also provide moderated online communities which are great alternatives to support groups for individuals with mobility issues, and those who prefer online interaction.
2. Cancer-Specific Support Groups in Australia
There are cancer-specific support groups as well. The Leukemia Foundation offers online and phone meetings with blood cancer support coordinators trained to provide emotional support to people affected by leukemia and their cares. The foundation even offers an online course for carers of people with leukemia focused on preventing burnout and caregiver fatigue.
3. Children-Centric Support Groups in Australia
Children and teenagers who have received a cancer diagnosis also have support groups and resources that are appropriate for their age. The Kids Cancer Support Group provides a support group for parents and children affected by cancer. They also offer a playgroup that is welcoming to children, parents, and grandparents with different abilities.
4. Youth Cancer Services in Australia
Youth Cancer Services is a resource for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 25 who have been affected by cancer. They provide great resources for younger individuals who have been diagnosed and are looking for emotional support. They have a range of online resources with information about returning to school after treatment, coping with a diagnosis, and what to do if the cancer were to come back. They also provide support groups and counselling and online forums that connect young individuals affected by cancer with others.
If you are looking for a specific support group and it is not available in your area, the Cancer Council has a list of resources to assist you with starting one. It is important to ensure that you are in the best position to help others and are able to manage your own mental health well before taking on the pressures of organising a support group. Creating the group and reaching out to others to advertise it to potential participants can be a long and tiring process. Growing the group can also take time, as people may not attend regularly.
Social Media Support Groups
Can’t attend a face to face group? Want to connect with people from outside Australia, a social media support group might be for you. Social media groups reduce the pressure of regular attendance, and are more casual than face to face groups. Social media groups allow you to engage as little or as much as you want to, and what’s more they allow for instantaneous responses no matter the time of day.
Most social media support groups are hosted on Facebook, although it is important to check the group requirements before joining. Some groups are limited to cancer survivors’ and their families, while others are just for a specific type of cancer. Other groups are heavily moderated, so it is important to read the group’s rules before joining and to ensure that you do not make any posts that break the rules of the group as this can result in removal.
Social media support groups can still provide the same benefits as a face-to-face support group in the form of expert opinions and moderation. Some groups host online meetings with presentations from established clinicians and question and answer sessions.
Getting The Support You Need Is Important
Getting cancer is life-altering. Upon diagnosis, your life as you know it will change. It is only human to feel stressed, anxious and fearful, but it is important to believe that you can still lead a good, fulfilling life with cancer. Seek out the support that you need, and with the right network, things will get better.
If you need further support to better cope with the symptoms of cancer, Homage provides home nursing and care services tailored to your needs. Our qualified nurses and support workers are trained to support patients diagnosed with cancer.
- Moon, T.J., Chih, M.Y., Shah, D.V., Woohyun, Y., Gustafson, D.H. (2017). Breast Cancer Survivors’ Contribution to Psychosocial Adjustment of Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients in a Computer-Mediated Social Support Group. Journalism & mass communication quarterly, 94(2), 486-514. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699016687724