Full support or light support – breast cancer groups offer up all sizes.
Traditional support groups find participants sitting in a circle sharing stories, struggles and advice. But breast cancer patients and survivors can find comfort and help in many ways and in many places, both in person and online.
Major breast cancer websites have online discussion groups where people may connect, get tips or share advice for coping with treatments and side effects. Among our favorites:
Plenty of information, such as “what to do the day of surgery,” is readily available. Some of these major websites also have thousands of discussion boards, many of them splintering into local meet-ups.
“Support groups help validate your experience,” said Selma Schimmel, founder of Vital Options International, a cancer communications and advocacy organization. She is also a breast cancer survivor and author of the book, “Cancer Talk.”
Schimmel believes breast cancer patients who attend support groups have an easier time and survive longer because they get positive energy and up-to-date information during what can be an emotional tidal wave. Groups are a great place to learn about side effects, clinical trials and trends with treatment, she said.
A nearly five-year breast cancer survivor, Shirley Smith, 70, mentors patients at in Towson through the Survivors Offering Support (SOS) program.
"What we do is we get other cancer survivors who are a year out from treatment," Smith said. "We want them to be past all of their treatment for at least a year, and then we train them to be mentors with BC patients. And we try to match them up depending on age, it can be by type of cancer, type of treatment. Some people don't care. Some people just want somebody to talk to."
Specialized support groups are also plentiful. Mothers Support Daughters with Breast Cancer was founded in 1995 by mom Charmayne Dierker and daughter Lillie Shockney in Washington, DC. Their organization, which has local resources, has helped more than 10,000 women.
Men Against Breast Cancer offers online resources to men who want to support women in their lives with breast cancer. Survivors are the heart of another group, SHARE, which offers support to women in and around New York City who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Tobey Young of Oceanside, NY, started a support group on Long Island after feeling that she didn’t have the support she needed after her mastectomy. Previvors and Survivors offers a forum, shopping and carpooling services, meal delivery and other services for patients and their families.
“My experience made me want to help others,” she said.
While many breast cancer resources are just a click away, some patients get support much closer to home, from people who aren’t even affiliated with breast cancer groups.
Tammy Wacker of Altamonte Springs, FL, was diagnosed with breast cancer while her two children were in preschool.
Wacker’s Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group jumped in to offer play dates, prayers, notes and time. One mom went to Wacker’s doctor appointments with her to take notes.
“A MOPS mom brought two bags of groceries to my house – fun, fancy stuff that I would never buy myself,” she said.
Her husband, Don Wacker, needed support, too. He was astonished to find out his young wife had breast cancer, and he embraced anyone he could find who had experience with the disease.
“I will never forget when I asked a friend how long his wife had been bald,” he said. “He responded, ‘I don’t remember.’ I realized he didn’t care and it hadn’t affected his relationship. That alleviated one of my major concerns.”
Other moms from the group gave Wacker a portable DVD player. “Don and I watched funny movies while I received chemo. It made the time go by so much faster, and we had fun while we were there.”
The Wackers said they found people wanted to help them and they had to figure out how to accept the help. Her advice? “Accept all gifts of love.”