Online Cancer Support Groups Provide Connection for Patients and Their Caregivers
Providing comprehensive care for patients during their cancer journey includes helping them maintain their mental well-being – before, during, and after treatment. To help meet that need, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB (OCCC) hosts online support groups for patients with specific types of cancer, as well as a new group for those with any type of cancer.
Led by OCCC nurses and counselors, the groups provide support during the cancer journey by connecting patients and their loved ones and caregivers with other people who are going through similar experiences and willing to share their firsthand insight.
“Support groups help fill in the gaps in care, because treatment and other forms of clinical care can’t fully address the mental ups and downs or the need for a peer community,” says Lindsey Murphy, LCSW, manager of the OCCC’s outpatient social workers. “Our support groups give patients and their loved ones reassurance in the form of knowledge and social belonging.”
Social workers encourage patients and their loved ones to participate in support groups from the time of diagnosis through survivorship. Diagnosis and treatment are the most obvious hurdles to overcome, but many patients face a different kind of mental stress while waiting for follow-up visits and to find out how well their treatments worked.
“That’s when it gets silent, all the activity slows down, and they need a way to stay engaged,” Murphy says. “Loved ones, too, can struggle with the feeling that they are suddenly alone as caregivers.”
New Group Open to All
The OCCC has long connected patients with specific support groups, both within the UAB Medicine system and beyond. The new General Oncology Support Group – which had its first meeting on March 7 – will be open to patients with any type of cancer and will include a focus on the experience of receiving care at the OCCC.
As with other OCCC support groups, the meetings will be conducted online using the Zoom videoconferencing software. The General Oncology Support Group will devote 30 minutes to an educational topic and 30 minutes to open discussion. The oncology nurse navigators and social workers who lead the meetings have extensive experience in guiding the cancer journeys for patients and their caregivers.
Murphy says support group meetings provide comfort and confidence for many participants, so patients and their loved ones are encouraged to explore as many support groups as they like. The social workers can even help people connect to the Zoom meetings if they have technical problems.
The OCCC’s four current support groups are described below:
General Oncology Support Group
This new group is open to patients receiving care at the OCCC for any type of cancer, as well as survivors, family members, and friends touched by the disease. The group will meet at noon on the first Tuesday of each month.
2023 meeting dates:
- April 4
- May 2
- June 6
- July 11 (delayed one week due to the Independence Day holiday)
- 12 pm: Educational presentation
- 12:30 pm: Open discussion
Head and Neck Cancer Support Group
This group meets on the third Thursday of every other month and is hosted by the UAB Medicine departments of Otolaryngology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and Radiation Oncology. Participants have the chance to hear from experts, connect with survivors, and talk through any issues they may be facing. The meetings are open to patients with head or neck cancer, as well as survivors, family members, and friends touched by this type of cancer.
2023 meeting dates:
- March 17
- May 19
- July 21
- Sept. 15
- Nov. 17
- 4 pm: Introduction
- 4:10 pm: Presentation
- 4:45 pm: Q&A discussion
- 5 pm: Closing remarks
Register for this group and receive a receive a Zoom link to the meeting by emailing email@example.com.
Pancreatobiliary Disease Center Support Group
This Facebook group is for people with diseases of the pancreas or bile ducts. It provides education on these conditions, information about community resources, and an opportunity for members to share their experiences and feel a greater sense of community.
Neuro-Oncology Support Group (Brain Buddies)
Also known as Brain Buddies, the purpose of this group is to build a sense of community among UAB Medicine Neuro-Oncology patients and their caregivers and allow them to connect with others going through similar experiences. The group meets at noon on the third Wednesday of each month.
UAB Neuro-Oncology also hosts a similar Facebook group for those affected by cancers of the brain and nervous system. It helps foster a sense of community and allows participants to learn from others who are familiar with the patient experience at UAB Medicine.