A Review of Online Cancer Support Groups

Others Who Went Through Cancer.
Others Who Went Through Cancer.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you need the support of people who have walked in the same shoes understand what you are going through. Online cancer support communities provide opportunities for patients, survivors and caregivers to help and support each other:

  • IHadCancer.com. Cancer survivors, patients and caregivers share stories, successes and treatment experiences. Site users can filter searches by gender, age, year of diagnosis, type of diagnosis and their role as patient, survivor or caregiver.
  • CancerCare.org. Led by professional oncology social workers, Cancer Care groups are available for the most prevalent cancers. Also offered are support groups for post-treatment survivors, caregivers, loved ones, and bereavement/grief. Telephone and face-to-face support groups are also offered.
  • American Cancer Society. A clearinghouse for all things related to cancer, this multi-language site provides educational information on cancer topics, current cancer research, clinical trials, staying healthy, and other treatment tools and resources. Online support communities are hosted for patients, survivors, family and caregivers. Phone, email and local support are also available.
  • CancerSupportCommunity.org. Online support groups, distress screening and emotional support services for patients, family and caregivers are among the educational and support services provided. A special online support group for teens is also available. Site users can create their own webpage to keep friends and family updated on their cancer journey. Helpful information is provided on parenting through cancer and other issues families face when a loved one has cancer.

A list of additional cancer support services is available on the National Cancer Institute website.

Online Cancer Support Groups Offer Comfort to Cancer Patients

Cancer Support.
Cancer Support.

Thousands of people are touched by cancer every day; yet in the early days of diagnosis the feeling that you are alone in your struggle is nearly universal. A cancer diagnosis is an isolating event.

Patients and their families talk of feeling like the walls of their world are closing in on them. In the shock of dealing with their cancer diagnosis and coping with the overwhelming task of scheduling doctors’ visits and lab work, evaluating the potential effectiveness of traditional and alternative cancer treatments, making arrangements to start treatment, and managing all the changes cancer inflicts on their personal, family and work life, many cancer patients and their families tend to draw back from their normal support systems, increasing their feelings of isolation.

Many times newly-diagnosed cancer patients hesitate to share their diagnosis with extended family, friends or co-workers until they have a clearer picture of what they’re facing and how cancer might affect their ability to continue their normal activities. Often, cancer patients and their immediate families are so overwhelmed by their own fears and emotions that they are simply unable to also deal with the fears and emotions of others. While friends mean well, cancer patients can find their raw expressions of concern and sympathy uncomfortable and even embarrassing.

Despite all these difficulties, cancer patients and their families desperately need support. Cancer is a difficult battle that is impossibly hard to fight alone. Many cancer patients find the support they need in online communities where cancer patients and their families share their stories of hope and help lift each other up when despair strikes.

Next time: A review of online cancer support groups

Meaningful Ways to Help a Friend or Family Member with Cancer

Helping Family with cancer.
Helping Family with cancer.

When a family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, people are often torn about how to respond. They want to help but are sensitive about intruding. Not knowing whether an offer of help will be appreciated or viewed as meddling often leads friends to make vague offers to help.

Unsure what kind of help is being offered, cancer patients and their families are frequently uncomfortable taking their friends up on such offers. As we noted in our previous post, making your offer to help specific can breach any feelings of discomfort.

Here are additional suggestions on ways to offer meaningful aid to a friend or family member who is battling cancer:

  • Follow through. Many offers of help follow the initial diagnosis of cancer; but for the cancer patient and his family the battle keeps going after those first few weeks. Don’t stop helping after a week or two. Friends who are still helping a month, 3 months, 6 months after the diagnosis make a real difference in the family’s life.
  • Don’t overstep. Helping does not give you license to manage your friend’s life or offer unsolicited advice. Be sensitive to the need for autonomy, especially if cancer strips away personal independence. Respect your friend’s boundaries.
  • Remember celebrations. Life does not stop because you have cancer. Remember holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, holiday traditions, etc. Celebrate life!
  • Be supportive. Check your own feelings, opinions and prejudices at the door. Respect your friend’s cancer treatment decisions. Maintain a warm, supportive, encouraging and positive attitude when you are with your friend and his or her family.

How to Help a Friend or Family Member Who Has Cancer

Help those you love with cancer.
Help those you love with cancer.

When we learn that a friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer, we instinctively want to help but may not know what to do. The usual “get better soon” platitudes are obviously inappropriate when serious illness strikes and the prognosis may be dire. Yet, it is at times like these when hopelessness and despair threaten to overwhelm someone we love that they and their family need us most.Serious illness generates unfamiliar discomfort for both the cancer patient and his friends. In watching someone else face death, we are reminded of our own human frailty; something most of us prefer not to think about. If a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, don’t stay away out of embarrassment or a misplaced desire not to intrude; but do use the following suggestions to offer meaningful aid:

  • Be specific. Even people who have a minor illness are unlikely to take you up on a vague offer to “call me if there’s anything I can do.” This is even more true of people who are diagnosed with cancer. Making a specific offer of help is more useful. Life goes on when you have cancer. Dogs must be walked, children taken to school and activities, meals cooked, houses cleaned, etc. Shouldering even one of these responsibilities for your friend will be deeply appreciated. Offering to drive your friend to doctors’ appointments or treatment sessions, walk the dog, pick up the kids from school, bring over a hot meal every Monday night or take over carpool duties to kids’ activities will make your friend’s life easier and be appreciated.

To be continued

U.S. Watching British Fight to Expand Healthcare Coverage to Experimental Cancer Treatments

Cancer patients and healthcare providers are watching the progress of a proposed British bill that would allow the country’s nationalized healthcare system to pay for experimental cancer treatments even if there is no proof they work. Like Britain,

Concerned citizens are watching.
Concerned citizens are watching.

America’s established medical and insurance communities favor long-standing traditional cancer treatments and have been slow to recognize the value of what they term alternative and complementary medicine, much less embrace the healing potential of experimental cancer treatments. Under current British law, experimental cancer treatments are illegal in the United Kingdom, a situation the bill’s author, Lord Maurice Saatchi, hopes to change. Should Parliament approve the bill, it could open the door for the expansion of approved cancer treatments in the U.S.Lord Saatchi, who lost his wife, novelist Josephine Hart, to ovarian cancer two years ago admits that his bill is motivated by grief. He has characterized as “medieval” his wife’s cancer treatment, calling the chemotherapy and radiation she received as “degrading and ineffective.” Under British law, physicians must adhere to standard medical practice or face possible prosecution. Saatchi considers the law’s restrictions a serious impediment to new cancer treatments that may offer cancer patients hope.

In Parliamentary debate, government health minister Lord Frederick Howe pointed out one of the serious problems in bringing cancer treatments to the consumer marketplace, the role entrenched medical and government bureaucracies play in delaying the approval of cancer therapies and drugs, an issue relevant to U.S. cancer treatments.

“It still takes an estimated average of 17 years for only 14% of new scientific discoveries to enter day-to-day clinical practice,” Howe said, adding the obvious, “This is not acceptable.”

More Natural Home Remedies that Boost Immune System, Fight Pain

Cherries in basket
Cherries can help to naturally blunt pain.

As noted in our previous post, a cancer diagnosis does not exempt you from the aches and pains of daily life. When these occur, many cancer patients prefer to turn to natural solutions. Many foods are known to help alleviate certain aches and pains and carry the additional benefit of boosting the immune system. Always talk to your Issels treatment team before adopting home remedies or adding supplements to your diet.Here are some additional pain-fighting foods and home remedies:

  • Red grapes are rich in resveratrol which blocks tissue-damaging enzymes and can help ease the back pain associated with cartilage damage. Blueberries, cranberries and red wine are other potent sources of resveratrol and also contain powerful antioxidants that promote a healthy immune system.
  • Soy protein has the potential to decrease osteoarthritis pain. The isoflavones (plant hormones) in soy have anti-inflammatory properties. A daily dose of 40 grams of soy protein is recommended and patience is required. It can take 2 to 3 weeks to take effect and a significant decrease in pain may not be felt for several months, but the effects can be significant with pain levels dropping by as much as 50%. Soy protein is found in tofu, soy milk and edamame.
  • Cherries contain high levels of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that decrease inflammation and may help ease arthritis pain.
  • Fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, halibut, snapper and tuna may have a positive effect on chronic pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and other autoimmune diseases. For greatest benefit, add fish to your diet 2 or 3 times a week.

Individualized Cancer Treatment