One of the hardest things to face when you’re diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is the overwhelming mental and emotional turmoil you may be experiencing. Who can you turn to for help in dealing with your fears, worries, anger, despair, and other difficult feelings? The answer is different for every person, but there’s one thing that’s the same for everyone: You need help now, and you deserve to be helped and supported.
For many women, it can be especially difficult to ask for help because women often find themselves in the helping and supporting roles. In addition, when the people who rely on you are faced with your diagnosis, they may get scared or angry themselves. They may resent the fact that you’re not as available for them, they may become paralyzed with fear and be unable to help, or they may try to deny that there’s anything really wrong with you.
You need to find those people who are able to be there for you when you need them. It might be family members or close friends. Or it might be neighbors, co-workers, or casual acquaintances who offer a helping hand, an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on.
Many people find professional therapists, religious counselors, support groups, and help lines to be good sources of comfort and advice, especially for dealing with the initial shock of diagnosis. Religious faith or spirituality can be another great source of comfort for many people.
It’s important to remember that no two people deal with these situations in exactly the same way. What worked for your cousin, neighbor, or colleague might not work for you.
Is a Support Group Right for You? Support from others who are dealing with metastatic disease, or even dealing with other types of cancer, can be a true source of comfort, strength, and hope.
Over the last 25 years, research has shown that support groups help reduce the three most significant stressors associated with cancer: unwanted aloneness, loss of control, and loss of hope. Research conducted at the Cancer Support Community has shown that people in support groups, either in person or online, report a decrease in depression, have an increased zest for life, and grow a new attitude toward their illness. Support groups can help you deal with depression and anxiety. Some people say that support groups help them with the trauma they feel from their diagnosis, as well as with managing pain.
In surveys conducted by Living Beyond Breast Cancer, of nearly 750 women living with metastatic breast cancer in 2005 and 2008, 77 percent of the women said they felt that support groups were important to them. These women said they went to support groups, either in person or online, in order to:
• Learn about the experiences of others
• Get information and emotional support
• Feel less alone
• Get help managing side effects and anxiety
• Find out about available resources
There are different kinds of support groups that might help you. Some are mixed diagnosis and include individuals dealing with different types of metastatic cancer. Other support groups might be only for women with metastatic breast cancer. Some people with metastatic disease who turn to support groups for help find that if the group is not intended specifically for participants with metastatic breast cancer, it may not be as helpful to them. By trying out different support groups, you can find what is most comfortable for you. If you are unsure of what support group may be a good fit for you, it may be helpful to speak with a social worker or the group facilitator before joining. They may be able to match you with a group that has the right dynamic for you.
In addition to face-to-face support groups, people may prefer to access support over the phone. Online support groups are also available and have been shown to help people with breast cancer reduce their depression and cope with pain. An online support group might be a good option for you if you prefer being online rather than face-to-face, if you do not feel well enough to go to a face-to-face group, or if you live in an area where there are no face-to-face support groups. Websites with discussion boards or listservs dedicated to women with metastatic disease can also be a great source of support for women with this disease.
To Access Support, You Can:
• Talk one-on-one with an oncology social worker, therapist, or spiritual advisor
• Participate in community activities
• Participate in a face-to-face metastatic breast cancer support group
• Participate in online chat groups and discussion boards
• Advocate for support, services, and research to help people living with metastatic breast cancer
• Talk to friends or family members with whom you feel comfortable
• Keep a journal
• Exercise your mind and body through meditation or yoga
Contact the Cancer Support Community, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, or Young Survival Coalition to access some of these services. (See Coping’s Cancer Survivors Guide for contact information.) Or ask your doctor, nurse, or social worker to connect you with support services in your area.
Excerpted with permission from Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Metastatic Breast Cancer © Cancer Support Community. For more information about metastatic breast cancer, visit CancerSupportCommunity.org/metastatic-breast-cancer. For more information about the Cancer Support Community call (888) 793-9355 or visit CancerSupportCommunity.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2018.