Feature Archive

When the Diagnosis Is Cancer

Should you join a peer support group? Probably. Just make sure you choose the right sort.

WebMD Feature

Oct. 9, 2000 -- June Forman strikes you as the kind of woman who does things right. Whether she's taking on the role of guest chef for an evening at one of Lake Tahoe's gourmet restaurants, trekking in Thailand, or kayaking on the Truckee River, she's enthusiastic, capable, organized, and prepared. So it was no surprise that when faced with breast cancer at 51, she met the challenge head-on, gathering information and interviewing doctors.

Then, after the first of four planned chemotherapy treatments, she joined a support group for women with breast cancer. She looked forward to the opportunity to share her feelings and fears with others like her, as well as to tap in to their reservoir of knowledge.

She had good reason to believe that the experience would help her. After all, respected physicians like David Spiegel, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavorial sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., championed support groups in the 1980s with much-publicized research showing that they increased survival among a group of women with breast cancer. Another study published in the Oct. 2, 1989, issue of the Lancet showed that women with breast cancer who joined such groups lived longer.

But Forman had a very different reaction. Instead of steeling her resolve, the experience undermined her strength, she says. "I felt like my armor had been pierced. People were sharing things with me that I really didn't need to know," Forman says. "I was usually feeling strong and positive, but when I went to that group, the bad feeling would echo for days. I felt drained afterward."