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Cancer Community Networks: Finding Strength in Connection

Maybe you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and feel overwhelmed with treatment options. Perhaps you’ve finished treatment, and you’re worried that your cancer might come back. Or you might be wondering what the rest of your life will look like as a cancer survivor. 

Wherever you are on your journey, you’ll face a range of questions, emotions and experiences. One thing that can help is connecting with others who are facing or have faced a similar situation.

Sarah Murphy, a multidisciplinary program director with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, said, “Everyone reacts to a cancer diagnosis in their own unique way. Patients often manage feelings of vulnerability on the inside while upholding an image of strength on the outside. Many don’t want to feel like a burden to others. All feelings are valid following a cancer diagnosis.”

People with cancer often are dealing with:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Anxiety
  • Distress
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Fear of recurrence
  • Survivors’ guilt
  • Treatment related symptoms, like chemo brain (thinking and memory problems)

Community networks can help when you’re coping with these feelings. Connecting with others who have experienced cancer can provide comfort and understanding. 

“It can help to talk to someone other than friends or family,” Murphy said. “Group meetings are often focused around ‘hoping and coping.’ They are a safe place to share your cancer experience and journey with others.”

Connecting with others online

Many people like to communicate with other people with cancer through online platforms. These groups are available anytime, day or night, so you can always access them. 

“They can be a good option for people with transportation issues or time constraints,” Murphy said. “They can also be a good choice during treatment if you are immunocompromised or too tired to attend an in-person meeting.”

Online groups often include people from different backgrounds and locations, and they sometimes include health care providers who can offer guidance and information. If you have a rare type of cancer or you’re part of a small group of people, such as men with breast cancer, you may be able to find more people who share your experience online.

Here are some places you can connect with other people with cancer:

These tips can help you get the most from your connections in online communities:

  • Use a nickname to protect your privacy.
  • Don’t share personal information like your full name, address or phone number. 
  • Remember that not all information is accurate. Discuss any medical advice you receive with your health care team before taking any action. 
  • Respect boundaries. Remember that everyone’s experience with cancer is different. Be mindful of others’ feelings and experiences. 
  • Report any harassment or inappropriate content to the platform administrators. 
  • Seek in-person support from friends, family and health care providers along with support from online groups.

Making connections in your community

You may want to meet with other people with cancer face-to-face. In-person meetings can give you a more genuine human connection. That support can be comforting in challenging times. Local groups can also help you connect with others who truly understand your journey. You may feel less isolated or lonely when you meet with others in person. 

“In-person groups are engaging, and you build rapport with others. It can be easier to interact and ask questions,” Murphy said.

Plus, local group members know the community. They can point you to resources in your area and help you navigate the health care system where you live. Along with connection with other people with cancer, local groups often invite guest speakers or health care providers to talk about cancer-related topics.

Here are some places you can look for in-person connections:

You can also ask your health care team, hospital, health department, community centers and social service agencies. And online forums and social media sites may include local groups. 

Think about the type of support you need

When you think about connecting with others who have cancer, you may focus on a particular type of cancer. There are groups of people with just about every form of cancer. And there are groups centered around other connections as well:

  • Caregiver groups offer guidance and emotional support for the loved ones of cancer patients. 
  • Survivorship groups are geared toward life after cancer, for people who have finished treatment. 
  • Young adult or children’s groups address the unique challenges of young cancer patients and their families. 
  • Spiritual or faith-based groups combine spiritual support with cancer-related discussions for people who find comfort in their faith. 
  • LGBTQ+ groups provide a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ+ people. 

Connecting with family and friends

Joining groups where you connect with other people with cancer isn’t the only way to get the support you need. It’s also important to reach out to loved ones. They can provide help and emotional support and can help you understand medical information and your treatment options. 

It can help if you’re open and honest with them, you clearly communicate what you need, you let them know when you need time to yourself and you thank them for their support.

Taking care of yourself

When you’re dealing with cancer, you may neglect self-care. But self-care helps you cope, makes you more resilient, reduces stress and improves your overall well-being. 

These strategies can help:

  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Physical activity
  • Journaling
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Focusing on good nutrition
  • Taking steps to sleep well
  • Engaging in hobbies

Seeking professional help 

Coping with cancer can be challenging, and it’s normal to need more help than you can get from community groups, family and friends. Counselors, therapists and social workers are there to help you cope with the emotional challenges of cancer. 

If you’re experiencing persistent sadness, anxiety, sleep problems or changes in your appetite, consider consulting a mental health care provider. If you’re not sure where to turn, talk to your oncologist or primary care provider. 

The bottom line

If you have cancer, connecting with others can help you cope and find information and resources. Online and in-person options are available for people with different cancer types as well as for caregivers, young people and people who want to connect with others like themselves.

Community can give you strength during your cancer journey. If you would like to connect with others, reach out to your care team or the experts at Banner Health.

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