Cancer Support Group: The importance of joining (cont.)

Moderator: Are support groups for everybody and are there people that may not find them helpful?

Schimmel: Support groups are not for everybody, and there are people... and there's no judgment here. Support groups don't work for everybody. They work for a lot of people, but not everybody. But that doesn't mean one should be without support, and so there are other ways to get support now. For me, it's what I love about doing a radio show, because people listen in and get the support they want without having to go to a support group. But yes, I agree that not everyone is suited for a support group.

Moderator: Will you share with us the story of your battle with cancer.

Schimmel: I had a lot to overcome. I was young when diagnosed, and my diagnosis followed on the heels of my mother's death, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was 26, when I lost my mom abruptly. Then my uncle died from a brain tumor, and lost my grandmother to uterine cancer. I found my breast lump, and was told not to worry, that I was too young for cancer. So I had a lot to tend with emotionally, and my cancer changed my life in that it became my life, and my vocation, and I started Vital Options in response to my very difficult experience, which included lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Support groups provide resources to cancer patients, and it's a great way to exchange information about side effects and resources in general, and what's happening with clinical trials, and new information that could be relevant.

Moderator: What problems do most cancer patients face?

Schimmel: There's a whole wide range of emotions we deal with, and there are different stages we go through in response to where we're at. You get that diagnosis, and feel completely out of control, you're overwhelmed and over saturated. And your life is turned upside down, and no matter how treatable your cancer is, you feel totally threatened by the experience. And until you decide on a course of action, you feel out of control. It's an emotional tidal wave, but we deal with issues of body image, confusion over treatment, side effects, women may be dealing with spontaneous menopause, and issues of fertility. There may be issues in the workplace, access to medical care issues, emotional issues after cancer -- how do you integrate this experience into your life, how do you live with the memory, recurrence, relationship issues... Facing mortality -- big issue.

Moderator: What takes place on your radio show?

Schimmel: I moderate the program and, along with me, there's always a medical oncologist or radiation specialist. Our therapist is with us, who herself is a survivor of breast cancer. When a person calls in, they talk to an oncology social worker, Carolyn, who talks to the caller and makes sure it's an appropriate call, and then we take questions on the air. People can direct their questions to the doctor to get a clinical answer, and usually behind a clinical question there's emotional issue that's going on.

Moderator: So it provides information and support.

Schimmel: They use us to clarify information, but we're like the support group -- all you need is a telephone, your radio, your heart, your head, and ears. And you can be anywhere, your car, or a hospital bed... and you can listen in to the world's largest support group, and get a perspective with what's going on across the country. Information, support, resources, and we also talk about specific diseases, as well as open shows and programs that deal with specific cancers, and we also do remote broadcasts from major cancer centers across the country. We have one on March 5th from USC, and we'll invite people from that city to come out and become a part of a town hall meeting type of support group. My favorite shows are the open shows, which means that the caller can completely drive the direction and theme of the show. We do a lot of disease-specific programming, but when we do an open show, it's the audience that tells us what's on their mind, so those are my favorite. Very special programs are those we do with children with cancer, shows that deal with intimate emotional issues ... we did a Valentine's show about intimacy. I look at cancer as a metaphor for all the malignancies in life we have to deal with. I had a solid tumor, but someone else might have a substance abuse problem, but you look at it as a metaphor for all the malignancies in life people have to live with... and then the show transcends cancer.

Moderator: How has the Internet changed support groups?

Schimmel: One of the reasons Vital Options made a transition from a community-based young adult organization to a radio show no longer limited to any age at all, is because of the Internet. We realized that a lot of people were using the Internet for support rather than go to a physical support group. It began to worry me if patients were getting correct information, or if they're joining a chat group on the Internet, if it was a truly legitimate site, a helpful healing site. I worry about vulnerable patients getting sucked into a situation where someone is trying to sell them something, or a charlatan. Overall, I think the web has been an incredible opportunity for patients not to feel alone. I love the thing we're doing with the radio show, that its simulcast on the web, so we're about to marry the world wide web and radio. Every major cancer organization has a website, so support and information is available at your fingertips! At vitaloptions.org, and they go to our resource section, we've linked many national organizations to our site. So its sort of one-stop shopping.

Moderator: Sounds like a great union: radio and the web.