I don't know the validity of that statement, but I can certainly imagine that terminal patients with a strong support group of family and friends cope better than those without. This study in the Lancet suggests patients participating in weekly support group therapy do fare better. But what about cancer survivors? How do they cope with a shift back to 'normal' routine?
Cancer survivors face unique challenges: Fear of recurrence, self-conciousness about appearance (weight change, hair loss or even loss of a limb), loneliness (if you feel others can't understand what you've been through) and even guilt about survival (when so many others don't make it) are all emotional issues that need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis post-treatment. These overwhelming emotions can lead to anxiety and depression and require support of family and friends. Sometimes that's not enough, and outside support groups (consisting of other cancer survivors who know what you're going through) are necessary. However the Mayo clinic offers the following caution when choosing a support group:
- Promises of a sure cure for your disease or condition
- Promises of quick solutions to your disease, condition or life situation
- Meetings that are predominantly "gripe" sessions
- A group leader or member who urges you to stop medical treatment
- A charismatic group leader who demands cult-like allegiance
- High fees to attend the group or having to purchase products or services
The Canadian Cancer Society offers peer support for cancer survivors and people living with cancer but there are many others out there.
It's not just cancer patients and survivors that need support. Friends and family are often bearing an emotional load themselves. Recent studies have shown that the social circle of cancer survivors, particularly partners, are also at risk for depression. In some cases, the mental health of partners was rated lower than the survivors themselves, and they were less likely to receive mental health treatment or support. This can put a great strain on relationships and magnify anxiety and depression in these pairs. This study was restricted to bone marrow transplant recipients and their partners, but the literature suggests it could be broadened to other cancer types.
Cancer is a complex disease, with complex issues lingering once clinic visits are finished. Support needs to extend outside the treatment room and is an ongoing process for patients and their loved ones even after treatments are finished and cancer is beaten.