How Breast Cancer Support Groups Make a Difference

How Breast Cancer Support Groups Make a Difference

A breast cancer diagnosis is a serious life-changing event that can lead to an emotional crisis if handled without appropriate channels of support in place. When you are first diagnosed with cancer, you are faced with psychological, emotional, and economic challenges that are extremely difficult to maneuver through without help. The experience can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression. Patients with breast cancer need to contend with the exhaustion and discomfort of treatment, dealing with friends and family, and fear of pain and death. However, you do not have to face these challenges alone. 

Breast cancer support groups are an ideal source of social support where you can learn about your diagnosis and treatment while having a safe space to receive encouragement and help through the difficult times. Beyond the emotional support, these support groups have several other benefits, such as a place to exchange information about treatment and learn new coping skills. If you are thinking of  joining a cancer support group, be assured in knowing that it can make a difference in your life. 

The Impact of Living with Breast Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer may cause you to go through a period of emotional crisis due to the trauma of the news. Feeling overwhelmed is natural, especially considering the changes that are ahead of you. Many women living with breast cancer may experience a number of psychological symptoms including:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood changes
  • Hypersensitivity 
  • Body image disturbance
  • Sexual problems
  • Economic concerns
  • Depression
  • Family-related worries
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Fear of recurrence

Women who have recovered from breast cancer also experience psychiatric symptoms of anxiety because of fear of recurrence. No matter what stage of treatment you are in, the anxiety and stress of living with cancer can be overwhelming and impair your quality of life. Depression can affect your body image, sexual drive and function, and darken your perspective on life. Treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery, can worsen these symptoms leading to changes in appearances and a decrease in energy levels and overall well-being. No wonder people call cancer treatment a battle!

Breast Cancer Support Groups Help Make a Difference

Women who attend support groups have reported a decrease in depression, a renewed interest in life, and a new perspective of their illness. Breast cancer support groups have been shown through research to help reduce three major stressors that are associated with cancer:

  • Loss of control
  • Loss of hope
  • Unwanted aloneness

Studies show that having a healthy social support system in place is associated with better adjustment to living with cancer and an improved quality of life. Of course, support from your loved ones is incredibly important as you work through your breast cancer treatment and recovery program. However, you can also build a support relationship with other women going through a similar life experience as you. In support groups, you are free to let go of any or all emotions and concerns you are dealing with and know that you will be supported through the process. Setting these strong feelings free allows you to be relieved of the burden of carrying them and can replace them with hope and self-love.  

Breast Cancer Support Group (Virtual) // Lowell General Hospital

Empathy and Health Outcomes

Sometimes, loved ones (like your family, friends, and partner) may seem like they are not the source of the most positive type of communication. They mean well, but you may get the sense that their own concern or discomfort with your situation interrupts their ability to lift you up in your low times. It is important to remember that they too are impacted by your diagnosis and they may not be able to emotionally support you in the way you need. Breast cancer support groups offer a space for you to give and receive positive support from professionals and peers going through a similar life experience. 

Empathy is a type of emotional support that is distinct from other forms of support such as prayer, encouragement, sympathy or physical affection. Cancer patients in online support groups find that they have a space where they feel comfortable to share their personal experience in their illness such as concerns, feelings, or moods they are having. This sharing of personal experience creates an atmosphere of closeness and empathy shared between members. This empathy shared between members of the group allows for a shared experience where energy is created and a common goal of helping each other is achieved. 

When you disclose feelings buried deep inside of yourself, you release yourself from internal anguish with an immediate benefit to your body. Yet, the act of expression itself helps you to understand and know the deep-seeded feeling inside that you would not have been able to work through on your own.

Warriors of Cancer

If you are a breast cancer warrior, know you do not have to face the journey alone. Reach out for support. Feelings of hopelessness and desperation build when you are lacking in support. Simply being willing to open up and share your story can help these feelings subside, especially in a supportive environment like a breast cancer support group. The benefits to joining a breast cancer support group include:

  • Improves your quality of life
  • Builds healthy communication skills
  • Provides an open environment to share anxieties, fears, and emotions
  • Offers valuable information from peers and professional oncologists
  • Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Builds friendships of mutual support and understanding

Emotional distress can be debilitating. On the surface, women with breast cancer may seem like they are handling the course of treatment like a champion. But underneath it all, the anxiety and overwhelming emotions can be whirling inside like a small storm and enjoying life can seem impossible. Living with a chronic disease like cancer can impair your ability to work and have healthy relationships (even with yourself). When you join a support group, you are welcomed into a space that encourages you to let go of holding onto internal struggles and share them to others who will listen and lift you up. If you consider your journey with cancer to be a battle, know that it is vital to have other warriors by your side to help you attain victory and peace after the battle has ended. 

References

Leung, J., Pachana, N. A., & Deirdre McLaughlin. (2014). Social support and health-related quality of life in women with breast cancer: a longitudinal study. Pyscho-Oncology, 23, 1014-1020. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pon.3523

Montali, L., et., al. (2021, August 06). Mirroring, monitoring, modelling, belonging, and distancing: Psychosocial processes in an online support group of breast cancer patients. Journal of Community Psychology, 1-16. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/jcop.22696

Salakari, M., et., al. (2017, October). Social support and breast cancer: A comparatory study of breast cancer survivors, women with mental depression, women with hypertension and healthy female controls. Breast, 35, 85-90. Retrieved from PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28667868/

Triberti, S., Savioni, L.. Sebri, V., & Gabriella Pravettoni. (2019). eHealth for improving quality of life in breast cancer patients: A systematic review. Cancer Treatment Reviews, 74, 1-14. Retrieved from ScienceDirect: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0305737219300076

Yeob, J., et., al. (2008). Expressing positive emotions with online support groups by women with breast cancer. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(8), 1002-1007. Retrieved from PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3556825/

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