The Importance of Support Groups when Coping with Cancer

By Susan Hall

Having cancer is often one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life. But support groups help many people cope with the emotional aspects of cancer by providing a safe place to share and work through feelings and challenges. They also allow people to learn from others facing similar situations and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement.  By helping others, people in a support group strengthen and empower themselves. The emotional support derived from support group participation can help reduce stress, which can have a positive impact on health and recovery.

For many people, a health-related support group may fill a gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support. A person’s relationship with a doctor or other medical personnel may not provide adequate emotional support, and a person’s family and friends may not understand the impact of a disease or treatment. A support group among people with shared experiences may function as a bridge between medical and emotional needs.

Formats of support groups vary, including face-to-face meetings, by telephone, or online communities.  The common experience among members of a support group often means they have similar feelings, worries, everyday problems, treatment decisions, and treatment side effects. Participating in a group provides you with an opportunity to be with people who are likely to have a common purpose and likely to understand one another.

Some BENEFITS of participating in a support group may include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
  • Reducing your distress, depression, overwhelming feelings, anxiety, or fatigue
  • Improving the quality of your life and survival
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings.
  • Improving your skills to cope with challenges
  • Staying motivated to manage the chronic conditions or stick to treatment plans, discuss side effect issues
  • Gain a sense of empowerment, control and hope
  • Improve your understanding of your disease and your own experience with it.
  • Getting practical feedback about treatment options from others that have been through it.
  • Learning about other health, economic, and social resources.

The lack of social support increases the chances of having problems coping with the various losses you encounter when faced with your cancer diagnosis, so Join One Today! J  When you join a new support group, you may be nervous about sharing personal issues with people you don’t know at first, but you will benefit from simply listening. Over time, however, contributing your own ideas and experiences may help you get more out of a support group.

Try a support group for a few weeks, If it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, consider a different support group or a different support group format. Online groups allow for more flexible & frequent participation. Remember, support groups are not a substitute for regular medical care. If you need help coping with your condition or situation, talk to your doctor about counseling or other types of therapy.


Mayo, NIH-National Cancer Institute, Winchester Hospital-Health Library.