How to get the most out of virtual cancer support groups
Many cancer patients and their families rely on support groups to help navigate cancer and manage their mental and emotional health. That’s why MD Anderson social work counselors have transitioned our cancer support groups to meet virtually to protect patients, caregivers and workforce members from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Like in-person cancer support groups, virtual support group meetings provide a safe place to share your experiences and connect with others facing the same challenges. It gives you the space to connect with others dealing with cancer, talk openly about your feelings, receive practical advice, share resources and contacts, better understand and be able to describe your experience and develop coping skills.
Tips for a better virtual cancer support group experience
Some people may find the idea of a virtual support group a little intimidating at first. Not only is there new technology involved, but you are no longer sharing physical space with your group. Your family members may even be in the next room.
To help you navigate virtual cancer support groups, our facilitators shared their best tips for getting the most benefit out of the experience. Here’s what they recommend.
Find a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be interrupted so that you can devote all of your attention to the group.
Test your audio and video capabilities before the virtual support group. Consider using headphones for better audio, and to cut down on feedback and background noises.
Let your group leader know if you have questions about how to navigate the group, such as how to turn on your camera or how to put yourself on mute.
Be open to meeting new people.
Keeping coming back. Don’t worry if you’ve missed some group meetings – you can return and join whenever you’re able.
Don’t feel like you have to use video to participate. Some people feel more comfortable using a phone and calling in.
If you feel uncomfortable about any aspect of the support group, please voice concerns to group facilitator. This is a safe and confidential space.
Feel free to provide feedback and suggestions to your support group facilitator to help improve the group. This group is for you.
If you feel intimidated about sharing, especially if it is your first time, know that you are never expected to share if you do not want to. You can always just listen. You still can get a lot out of the group from hearing other’s experiences.
If it's your first time, feel free to call or email the group leader with questions or concerns about the group prior to attending in order to alleviate your fears.
Virtual cancer support groups offer unique benefits
The social work counselors who facilitate virtual support groups are seeing benefits to this new format for patients, caregivers and the facilitators.
“I had no idea what to expect when we began, but it’s incredible to connect with patients from their homes,” says social work counselor Melanie Cavazos. “Previously, support groups were typically only attended by local patients, but by holding them virtually we are creating an opportunity for out-of-town patients to remain connected. Our local patients benefit as well and enjoy not having to mess with Houston traffic or hospital parking to attend a support group. It is unbelievably brave of our patients and caregivers to be vulnerable with a group of strangers and I am grateful to be a part of something so special.”
Not only can virtual meetings be more comfortable, they are also providing flexibility for busy schedules.
“Virtual support provides greater access for our patients to connect. Individuals no longer need to worry about getting ready for another appointment or traveling to meetings. This is a wonderful opportunity to find meaningful connection with other peers at one of the many dates and times convenient for them,” says social work counselor Sonia Jurado.
General patient and caregiver support groups are offered, as well as several specific types of support groups for young adults, parents, and gynecologic and stem cell transplant/blood cancer patients. To find a cancer support group that’s right for you and register for an upcoming meeting, visit our website.