Support groups give you firsthand tips on dealing with the physical and emotional impact of cancer and its treatment, as well as help you feel less lonely. They are immensely valuable—and sometimes not a great option.
The thought of sitting in a circle with strangers may fill you with dread. Sometimes the side effects of treatment are overwhelming, and getting to meetings on a regular basis is difficult. Or maybe you just don’t live near any relevant meetings. This is where online cancer support groups come in. While I was going through treatment, and in the years shortly following, I had an online support group to go along with my in-person meetings, and I loved both.
You Find Your People Online
Much of cancer support is divided into groups based on the part of your body affected by cancer (for instance lung cancer, breast cancer or blood cancers). This makes sense in some situations, especially where limb loss or reconstruction are involved. But in many cases, the practical and emotional impact of cancer varies more by demographics.
At the first cancer support group I attended, I was newly diagnosed and my daughter was an infant; the next youngest person in the group was in her 70s. They were lovely ladies, and a wonderful support to each other, but I found I fit in much better with a group that had other young moms with cancer.
Your first group might not be the perfect fit. By removing geography as a limitation, online support groups bring together much more specific gatherings. There are groups for parents with cancer, teens, LGBTQ, young professionals, and many others. You want to find a support group that offers you people in similar situations as you, whatever that may be.
Online Groups Are 24/7
Cancer leads to many sleepless nights. The online group is especially helpful those moments when the stress and fear around cancer keep you awake at 3 a.m. My group was large enough that I found there was almost always someone else up at that hour. Even though my husband was right there, I didn’t want to wake him. Thankfully, I had a friend online I could talk to. Through the internet, you can be there for each other at any time of day, even though you’ve never physically met.
What to Look for in a Group
You have the option of anonymity in an online group, but it’s still good to be sure group members understand that what’s shared in the online group stays there and isn’t to be redistributed. Look for a statement of group guidelines that’s specific about privacy. Additionally, is the group moderated? It’s a sad truth that sometimes people don’t behave well on the internet. A good moderator can reinforce the rules, delete inappropriate posts and, if necessary, ban participants who habitually break the rules.
Online support groups are often formatted as a bulletin board, so look for a format that’s organized and searchable. This way, you can easily navigate the archives for specific info, such as looking for others who experienced a rash after chemotherapy. The bulletin board system also allows you to communicate at your leisure, rather than at a specific time. If you prefer having a set schedule, some groups are set up as a live chat, where you would log in at a specific time to join the conversation.
An online support group help you deal with the stress of living with cancer. You don’t need to make a big commitment—just hop on, and show up as you are and when you’re ready.
As you go through treatment, make sure to talk to your doctors and loved ones about the support your need (in whatever form you need it in.) UVA Cancer Center has the specific resources and knowledge to get you through this tough time.Learn More