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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Groups Offer Healing Support For Cancer Patients

Groups Offer Healing Support For Cancer Patients

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sun, Oct. 31, 2004
By Marianne Bunce, RN, MS, AOCN

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, Sandy Anderson spent hours crying about the possible loss of her future, and long, lonely nights fearing pain and death.

One of cancer's more horrible aspects is the fear of what the future might bring: discomfort, disability, loss of physical appeal, saying good-bye to friends and family, and a shortened life, even though many patients will not have to endure these for years or decades, or ever.

And many parts of her illness and treatment were indeed unpleasant: the periodic weakness and fatigue, the nausea, vomiting and hair loss associated with chemotherapy; some unfavorable test results; depression; sleeplessness; and always, the uncertainty.

But Sandy's ability to cope with these issues improved dramatically when she began attending cancer support groups. Getting to know others with the same fears, symptoms and uncertainty helped her endure the tough times and enjoy the good ones.

Hearing how others suffered and endured, and sometimes failed, helped her to cope. Her new family of friends knew the details of her illness and her fears, so she didn't have to endure them alone. Their shared experiences reduced the loneliness, which is one of cancer's worst side effects.

And learning to help other cancer patients has given Sandy's life new purpose. Others in the group appreciate her contributions to their well-being.

Cancer patients in Contra Costa County are fortunate to have many groups to choose from: groups for different types of cancer, groups for men or women or both; groups for different ages and languages, and more. The following local organizations offer free support groups, educational programs and materials and stress management programs:

  • Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, 5349 College Avenue, Oakland, 94618, 510-601-7660
  • The Wellness Community, 3276 McNutt Avenue, Walnut Creek, 94596, 800-556-0477. For Spanish, 925-933-1569.
  • The Women's Cancer Resource Center, 5741 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, 94609, 888-421-7900. For Spanish, 510-601-4044
  • The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, 800-955-4572,
  • The American Cancer Society, 1885 Oak Park Boulevard, Pleasant Hill, 94523, 925-934-7640, option 3
  • CancerCare, 800-813-HOPE,

In addition to or as part of joining a support group, cancer patients can do things to help themselves adjust to a cancer diagnosis and begin to get some control over their illness:

  • Inform yourself about what to expect from cancer and its treatment by reading (from the library or Internet) and talking to others.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse questions. Don't be afraid. They are there to help you.
  • Gradually compile questions to ask your doctor or nurse during your next appointment. Even the process of compiling the list may help you get a (real) sense of control.
  • Be open to lifestyle changes, such as stress reduction and dietary improvement, to help manage your symptoms. Beware of unscientific, unproven therapies, which can be harmful.

The American Cancer Society has free educational materials on specific cancers, treatment options, symptom management and sample lists of questions to ask the health care professional. The telephone number is 800-ACS-2345.

Having cancer should not mean the end of living. Support groups can be a place where patients and their families can find comfort, education and hope.

Marianne Bunce is the oncology clinical nurse specialist at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center.

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