When a cancer diagnosis is handed down, individuals feel like all the lights have been switched off in an instant and they are plunged into a terrible darkness where hope is hard to find. Even with the loving support of their families and friends, sometimes patients need to get together with people who have been there or are currently dealing with the same illness because fellow sufferers truly know and understand what another patient is going through. By turning to support groups, patients and their loved ones can start to make sense of the devastating news and not have to face the fear of cancer alone.
What are support groups? These are a circle of people that provide a safe haven for the patient seeking comfort and assistance. Such groups have been shown to improve the health of the patient by helping manage life with cancer.
According to the US National Cancer Institute, some of the benefits of joining support groups include being able to talk about feelings so cancer patients can work through them; dealing with the side effects of treatments; and even helping them with real-life problems like issues at work or school.Others receive advice on dietary requirements and where to find donors or financial assistance, as well as the latest word about medical treatments.
There are different types of support groups depending on the type of support that you wish for and need. In the Philippines, there are communities that cancer patients can turn to for relief and encouragement.
- Some support groups are created for particular types of cancers. An example is ICanServe Foundation which caters to breast cancer patients. ICanServe offers assistance by spreading awareness about breast cancer, leading patients to sources of financial help, and serving as a platform for those who may want to donate for the cause.
- There are formal volunteer groups, like advocates of the fight against pediatric cancer. One such local group is Project Brave Kids, started by parents whose child was once diagnosed with leukemia. When they witnessed the plight of cancer kids in a government hospital, they felt the need to help other cancer warriors. Another organization that assists and supports hospitalized children with cancer is Kythe Foundation, composed of trained professionals.
- Those who want to seek hospital-based support have the following options, among others: Hope Unlimited which is based at the Cardinal Santos Hospital in San Juan City, The Medical City Breast Cancer Support Group, Corridor of Hope at St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City, Cradle of Hope Cancer Support Group located at James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital in Olongapo City, and Aruga in Sta. Cruz, Manila at Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center.
- For cancer patients and their families who want information on how to take action against cancer effectively, they can access the website hopefromwithin.org. Hope from Within offers broad range of information about the importance of early screening, access and discussing relevant breakthrough treatment options for cancer.
- Patients can also look at Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh) and Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO). CCPh is composed of patient organizations, health care providers, cancer advocates and champions engaging and working with government, policy makers, private sector, civil society, and international development partners. It aims to promote better health outcomes for cancer patients, cancer survivors, and their families. PAPO, on the other hand, is a strong network of disease-specific patient groups that also seeks to empower Filipino patients.
- Aside from groups that extend emotional support, there are organizations that help alleviate the financial burden of cancer patients. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) provides assistance via the Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) to help subsidize some of the treatment costs.
How can a person join support groups? Most can now be accessed online. The depth and breadth of the internet are tremendous and when harnessed correctly, it can be an excellent tool to reach and connect to the right information and people. If you’re interested in being part of a support group, first feel around if the group or site is a good fit for you, then ask to be included into the group. Joining online groups is now as easy as a click of a button. Information can also be found in hospitals where peer group counseling networks post contact details and services on bulletin boards.
Whatever type of community you decide to join, know that the members are there to provide comfort and empowerment to patients and their families. Personal stories and testimonials are important to help us feel that we are not alone. Some patients may not feel comfortable narrating private experiences, and that’s okay. Participate in your own unique way, in a manner that makes you feel at home. Depending on your need and the level of engagement that you hope to develop, see what works for you. At the end of the day, what’s great is that a person no longer has to face cancer alone.