Beyond Treatment

Publication: D Magazine
December 01, 2021

Anyone who has had cancer knows it affects much more than the body. It makes an impact on one’s psychological and emotional health, too. This is why so many oncologists want to “treat the whole person” when it comes to effective cancer care. Many cancer patients find that support groups offer another layer of healing as they navigate their way from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. In addition to being a valuable source of information, support groups can help resolve feelings of isolation and loneliness. As bonds form in support groups, participants learn new coping skills, develop friendships, and exchange information and resources.

Stephanie Broussard, MSSW, LCSW, ACHP-SW, director of palliative care and social work at Texas Oncology, says she has seen first-hand how support groups can make an impactful difference in patients’ lives “For the most part, people are overwhelmed,” she says. “Some patients are ready to get started and seek out additional supportive services. Others are shell-shocked and not sure what to do. I had one patient who said she felt numb and stayed that way in order to process it—like turning off a switch in her brain. There are all different kinds of reactions because we all take in information differently. The overarching response to a cancer diagnosis is the realization that this is a moment that will change your life forever.”

Broussard says the first step following a cancer diagnosis is to assemble a comprehensive medical team, which often includes a discussion about supportive services. Social workers are frequently engaged to help address the patient with practical needs and help patients and families cope with the emotional stressors of living with cancer. Texas Oncology offers several types of cancer support groups, and the topics vary depending on the type of cancer, but most cover coping skills, how to build your emotional toolbox when fighting cancer, proactive self-care, mindfulness and meditation, and how to navigate changes in your body from a psychological, social, and emotional perspective.

Support groups also help cancer patients learn how to communicate with loved ones during their treatment. “I often hear from patients that people in their lives don’t know how to support them, or maybe the support they are getting is not the support they need,” Broussard says. “It can feel like a lonely journey and that you are the only person having your experience. Support groups validate your experience. Knowing you aren’t alone is so helpful. We also try to engage caregivers so they can learn how to best support their loved ones. Outside of one-on-one options, we collaborate with the Texas Oncology Foundation to provide caregiver support groups.”

Cancer support groups can create a small community, which gives patients a connection they didn’t even know they needed. Broussard recalls a breast cancer support group that connected in such a strong way that a few members became a lifeline to each other during the winter storm that affected Texas in early 2021. “There is no requirement to share contact information or interact outside of the group meetings, but this group provided the support system their members needed during the ice storm,” she says. “This is what happens when people are open and willing to connect. We hear a lot of feedback about how our support groups improve patients’ overall well-being and provide a safe space to communicate and connect.”

This story appeared in the December 2021 issue of D Magazine.