The Importance of Joining a Cancer Support Group with Selma Schimmel

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Selma Schimmel, host of the nationally-syndicated radio talk show 'Group Talk' and author of the book 'Cancer Talk,' will be discussing how support groups can be one of the best links to healing cancer.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live. Today we are discussing The Importance of Joining a Cancer Support Group, with Selma Schimmel.

If you'd like to ask Selma a question, type /ask followed by your question (e.g. "/ask How are you?")

Selma, welcome to WebMD Live. What does your book, Cancer Talk: Voices of Hope and Endurance from 'The Group Room,' the World's Largest Cancer Support Group, talk about?

Schimmel: Cancer Talk is a collection of voices of cancer survivors, family members, friends, medical professionals, physicians, nurses, the whole team, and it's an exchange, an active dialogue from everyone who's been touched by the cancer experience, and sharing everything from doctor diagnosis to issues of the caretaker, dealing with the changing health care delivery system, helping people tap into issues of spirituality, faith and prayer ... talking about morality issues, maintaining quality of life, dealing with side effects ... And so what's special about the book is that it's actually a support group in a book. Somewhere in there, there will be a voice that'll resonate with yours, because it's a collection of all these voices and it's a shared perspective of the cancer experience from all these viewpoints.

Moderator: Is the book currently in print?

Schimmel: The book is currently in print, and about to go into second print.. and it's available at Barnes & Noble.

Moderator: What exactly occurs during a typical support group session?

Schimmel: A lot of elements go into that answer based on the orientation of the support group. Vital Options, when we were community based, what took place was our groups were facilitated, and these aren't therapy groups, but facilitated by social workers or psychologists, and each group would take on a life of its own, and people get scared and go to a support group and don't know what to expect. Support groups are not therapy groups, and there's a real distinction. A facilitator is helpful to guide the group along, and identify issues that may require extra support.

What should happen in a cancer support group, is that it should be a place where you get good emotional support and information. That you have empathy and you're able to share your experience with people that are walking down the same path. What scares people about going to a support group is, are they going to see people sicker than they are, confront issues of mortality when they see that. We have to teach people that everyone's cancer experience is uniquely theirs, and someone going through a bad time doesn't mean you'll go through a bad time, but support groups help to validate your experience. Cancer patients who attend support groups lead good lives and survive longer than just receiving medical treatment alone, because a support group complements the medical aspect of treatment. It helps you cope, it's a safe place to share your innermost feelings, and know what you're going through, you're not going through ... Family members need support, too, and there are groups in certain organizations that are specifically designed to help you cope with either particular cancers, or if you're going to have a bone marrow transplant, then you find that group... or if you're dealing with issues after treatment, then you find that group. What makes the group room on the radio show special is that we give people their anonymity, which makes it real easy for men to participate.

Moderator: Are there support groups for family members?

Schimmel: Absolutely, and caregivers have been neglected for a long time, and they're on the other side of the coin of cancer. They go through tremendous feelings of anger, frustration, burn out, guilt. They need support and yes, more and more organizations offer support groups to family members. In Cancer Talk, there are a couple chapters dedicated to the issue of the caregiver.

Moderator: Do support groups cost anything to attend?

Schimmel: Support groups we're affiliated with cost nothing, and in my opinion, support groups shouldn't cost money. But if you're going to an organization and want to make a contribution, I'm sure it's appreciated, but support groups tend to be free. It's important to know that support groups are coming from a credible source, but before you get involved with one, make sure you do a bit of research to make sure you're with a legitimate one. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to a group that wasn't the right one for me. You can't judge a support group by one group, you have to go to another. Some support groups are drop-in, some are time limited, so you never know what'll happen week to week. If you go one time and don't like it, its hard to assess from one interaction. You have to go a few times to decide if its working for you. They discover in the process of going to offer support to someone else, that they're benefiting... that they're getting the type of support they didn't realize they were in need of.

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