You are not alone. Connect with fellow survivors who share your diagnosis.
Support groups provide a time and space for patients and family members to discuss feelings, concerns, and attitudes in a caring atmosphere. Attendees of these groups are able to share their journeys, thoughts, concerns in a supportive environment. The groups are facilitated by professionally licensed social workers and other members of your support care team.
Online Support Groups
As families face the uncertainties of a cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Work has put together Zoom support groups for patients and caregivers.
MD Anderson currently offers Zoom support groups facilitated by Social work counselors. These sessions provide an opportunity for patients, family members, and friends to meet others in similar circumstances, develop new relationships, and find out how others cope during this time of increased distress.
How to sign-up
The general patient support and caregiver support groups will be offered daily with different facilitators. Patients and caregivers are asked to RSVP ahead of time and include their name, MRN (if MD Anderson patient or caregiver), and group preference for attendance. The facilitator will reach out to them and send a Zoom invitation within an hour before the support group starts. Patients/caregivers can then either log-in via Zoom on their own computer, or use the phone number provided in the email.
General Cancer Patient Support Group:
- Mondays at 4 p.m. (Spanish speakers): RSVP to Yasi Canga-Gonzalez at YCCanga@mdanderson.org
- Tuesdays at 3 p.m.: RSVP to Heather Valladarez at HValladarez@mdanderson.org.
- Fridays at 10 a.m.: RSVP to Paige Falcon at PEKotlarich@mdanderson.org. **currently full, please check back for open avaliability**
Caregiver Support Group:
- Thursdays at 5 p.m.: RSVP to Paige Falcon at PEKotlarich@mdanderson.org. **currently closed, please check back for open avaliability**
- Mondays at 2 p.m. (Spanish speakers): RSVP to Yasi Canga-Gonzalez at YCCanga@mdanderson.org.
- Fridays at 3 p.m.: RSVP to Heather Valladarez at HValladarez@mdanderson.org.
Cancer Survivorship Group:
- Tuesdays at 6 p.m.: RSVP to Kendolyn Shankle at KFShankle@mdanderson.org.
- Thursdays at 10 a.m.: RSVP to Traci Newsome at TMNewsom@mdanderson.org.
Several specific types of support groups for young adults, parents, and gynecological and stem cell/blood cancer patients will also be offered:
- Advanced Stage Cancer (Patients only) Support Group **currently on hold until the Fall 2022**
- Wednesdays at 2 p.m.
- RSVP to Emily Juarez at ECHyland@mdanderson.org.
- Wednesdays at 2 p.m.
- Brain Tumor Support Group, part of the BEST (Brain Tumor Education and Support Together) program
- LGBTQIA+ Support Group for Patients & Caregivers
- First & third Tuesday of each month at 11 a.m.
- RSVP to Dawnica Mathis-Huff at DLMathis1@mdanderson.org.
- Loving Kindness Meditation Support Group
- Wednesdays at 11 a.m. (starting May 5th)
- RSVP to Sarah Stone at SStone@mdanderson.org
- Wednesdays at 11 a.m. (starting May 5th)
- Young Adult (ages 18-39) Group
- Second and fourth Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
- RSVP to Wendy Griffith at WEGriffith@mdanderson.org.
- Support Group for Caregiver’s of Young Adults (Young adults are ages 18-39)
- Second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
- RSVP to Heather DeRousse at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Helping your Children Cope with Pandemic Stress: A Support Group for Parents
- Thursdays at 10 a.m.
- RSVP to Shelby Doyle at SCBecka@mdanderson.org.
- Men's Support Group
- Second and fourth Thursday of each month at 12 p.m. (noon)
- RSVP to Thomas Verm at TVerm@mdanderson.org.
- Stem Cell Transplant/Blood Cancer Support Group
- Fridays at 2 p.m.
- RSVP to Melodie Cabitac at MMCabitac@mdanderson.org.
- Endometrial Cancer Support Group
- Second Wednesday of each month at 12 p.m. (noon)
- RSVP to Cindy Parker at CLParker3@mdanderson.org
- Ovarian Cancer Support Group
- Second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.
- RSVP to Alycia Hughes-McKissack at AHughes@mdanderson.org.
- Second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.
- Coping with Breast Surgery & Reconstruction Support Group
- Second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m.
- RSVP to Arewa Banjoko at email@example.com.
- Second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m.
- Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group
- Wednesdays at 1 p.m.
- RSVP to Abbey Kaler at ABCProgram@mdanderson.org.
- Well Wives Support Group (for women whose spouse has cancer)
- Thursdays at 4 p.m.
- RSVP to Andrea Guion at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Radiation Oncology Support Group
- Wednesdays at 2 p.m.
- RSVP to Maleeta Watson at MAWatson2@mdanderson.org.
- Circle of Hope Bereavement & Loss Support Group
- Wednesday Night at 5:30 p.m.; April 18-May 23
- This is a closed, six session group and requires pre-screening
- RSVP for pre-screening & registration details to Daniel Huvard at DAHuvard@mdanderson.org.
- The ABC's of Healthy Living in Challenging Times Web Series: The Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC) Program and Clinic invites all MD Anderson patients and caregivers to participate in the virtual webinar series “The ABCs of Healthy Living in Challenging Times.” This multidisciplinary weekly virtual webinar series will focus on topics such as diet, exercise, sleep, mental health, telemedicine, and much more. Please join us for a virtual community and tips for maintaining healthy living during these challenging times. RSVP to Abbey Kaler at ABCProgram@mdanderson.org or visit here for more information.
- Active Living after Cancer (ALAC) is a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) funded program. The program aims to improve the quality of life of cancer survivors in Houston and El Paso by promoting physical activity, and by providing navigation services for survivorship issues. The program consists of 12 weekly sessions, followed by a reunion at the conclusion of the program. Each session is comprised of cognitive and behavioral skills training related to increasing physical activity, a guided discussion on a survivorship topic, and short bouts of moderate physical activity. The program is free of charge, and each participant will be provided a pedometer and a resistance band, that they may keep, to help them reach their physical activity goals. For more information click here.
- Lunch & Learn Series: Volunteer Services and Merchandising hosts virtual Lunch & Learn sessions for patients, caregivers, volunteers, and employees to hear the latest news and information related to cancer from MD Anderson experts. Classes will be held using Zoom on the second and third Tuesdays of the month from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. CDT. For a complete schedule and registration, links visit here. For additional information contact myCancerConnection.
For more information on any of the support groups listed above, please contact Social Work at 713-792-6195.
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.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789
Jenn Myers was scrolling through Facebook while waiting for her chemotherapy session to start last April when a post caught her attention.
Jenn had wanted to participate since she first became an MD Anderson patient two years ago, but the timing was never right. The meetings were only held in-person, and Jenn lived in Pennsylvania.
“Whenever the support groups met, I was invariably home,” she explains, “or at MD Anderson, but tied up in medical appointments.”
When the online support groups launched on April 13, she could finally attend – from anywhere.
“I’ve participated from Pennsylvania, from my hotel room in Houston, and even during my chemotherapy sessions,” she says. “Virtual meetings really opened up a new world for me.”
Cancer support groups provide a vital outlet during the COVID-19 pandemic
Teresa Van Oort, clinical program manager for Social Work, says the online support groups have been a vital outlet for many patients and caregivers.
“Dealing with cancer can be overwhelming, but the pandemic makes it even harder,” she says. “Cancer patients must isolate to protect themselves at a time when they need emotional support the most.”
Van Oort teamed up with her Social Work colleagues to quickly launch virtual support group meetings to ensure cancer patients could still meet and get the support they need.
The online sessions were a near-instant success. Within a few weeks, the groups, which are open to all, had grown. MD Anderson patients from across the country started to join. And people who used to miss meetings because they were feeling ill or couldn’t make the drive became regular participants. Additional groups were added to meet the demand.
Today, MD Anderson offers 28 different support groups – one of the broadest selections in the country. People can choose from larger groups open to all cancer patients and caregivers, or smaller groups based on specific cancer types or populations, including Spanish-speaking, teens and young adults, parents with cancer, and LGBTQ.
Virtual connections re-energize cancer caregivers
Olivia Corona works as a speech language pathologist at an elementary school in Austin, Texas. She lives with her mom, Minerva, who’s facing stage IV lung cancer.
Every Thursday at 6 p.m., Olivia logs into MD Anderson’s support group for caregivers.
“The group is like an oasis where I go to get re-energized,” she says. “I’ve learned some great stress-reduction techniques and I’ve made some great friends.”
She calls the virtual format a “much-needed blessing.”
“It’s so easy and accessible,” she says. “I hop on the computer, log into Zoom, and participate while dinner’s in the oven.”
Group members recently cheered and applauded when Olivia shared that scans showed her mom’s cancer was shrinking.
“We’re like a family,” she says, “a virtual family.”
Friendships emerge from cancer support groups
Jenn knows that feeling. She’s forged close friendships with three women in her virtual support group.
“We just clicked,” she says.
The “fearless foursome,” as their group leader calls them, message each other daily.
“We talk about movies, current events, food – and so much more than cancer,” Jenn says.
On Mondays, they lunch together on Zoom and toast each other’s health.
“We’re on the same path,” Jenn says. “We get each other.”
Online cancer support groups provide invaluable support
Van Oort says virtual meetings feel a bit different than traditional ones. Social work counselors can’t read the room like they did during in-person groups. And they may miss some nonverbal cues because they can only see participants form the shoulders up.
“But the online groups provide an invaluable connection,” Van Oort says. “And they help normalize what people are going through.”
For Jenn, the virtual group has been just as helpful as an in-person meeting.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing anything,” she says. “We still get to talk to each other and get guidance from our social work counselors. All of that helps us feel connected, even when we’re not physically together.”
When the pandemic ends, Van Oort says MD Anderson will make support groups a hybrid of in-person and online meetings, to let people access therapy in whatever way is most comfortable and convenient for them.
“That way,” says Van Oort, “whether meetings are virtual or face to face, cancer survivors can still know they’re not alone.
More cancer patient programs that have gone virtual during COVID-19
Support groups aren’t the only patient programs to go virtual during the pandemic. Here are a few more support programs that have gone virtual to keep cancer patients and caregivers engaged, informed and healthy – no matter where they are.
Lunch & Learns
At these lunchtime information sessions, experts provide patients, caregivers and survivors with the latest cancer news and information. Recent presentations include “Getting the most out of your virtual appointment,” “Battling social isolation during COVID-19,” and “Finding reliable health information.”
Sessions were previously held on MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus the second and third Tuesdays of the month from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Now, they’re offered at the same time – but on Zoom.
“Patients and family members used to schedule their appointments and Houston visits around these Lunch & Learns,” says Diana Leipold, manager of Volunteer and Patient Programs. “Now attendees can log in from home or other locations.”
Breast cancer survivor Estelle Racusin attended Lunch & Learns in person before the pandemic arrived.
“I had to be at MD Anderson on Tuesdays to attend,” she says. “But with the virtual sessions, I can participate from anywhere.”
She recently logged in to a session from her car while her husband was driving.
“I love the convenience and flexibility of the virtual sessions,” she says.
Programs for adolescents and young adults
In addition to making its support group virtual, MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program (AYA) has taken its social activities virtual, including educational webinars, art and cooking classes, game and movie nights, and beauty and skin-care classes
“Everything we used to do in-person is now being done virtually,” says program manager Wendy Griffith. “The virtual format has actually improved access and made it possible for more patients to connect.”
Colorectal cancer survivor Allison Rosen agrees. “It’s great seeing some new faces who maybe weren’t willing or able to come in person,” she says.
Active Living After Cancer
Now offered on Zoom, Active Living After Cancer is a 12-week program that motivates cancer survivors to exercise and make healthy lifestyle changes.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the program seamlessly transitioned to a virtual format.
“We’d been thinking about developing virtual options for a while to help us reach survivors who live in more rural areas,” says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., the program’s director. “The need for social distancing gave us a chance to try it out.”
Cancer survivors have embraced the change, Basen-Engquist says, and are continuing their uninterrupted participation.
Tobacco Treatment Program
MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program is experiencing a steady increase in enrollment since going 100% remote in March. 1,400 virtual Tobacco Treatment Program participants got help with quitting smoking from March through August alone.
“We believe more people are motivated to quit smoking during the pandemic, because smokers have been affected by COVID-19 more than non-smokers, and in worse ways,” says Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., the program’s medical director. “The lungs are a favorite target of COVID-19.”
When the pandemic resulted in the discontinuation of in-person sessions, the program quickly transitioned to a virtual format.
“Nicotine addiction recovery is a difficult and elaborate, step-by-step process, and our participants couldn’t afford to miss a beat,” Karam-Hage says. “We transitioned quickly, and everyone stayed on schedule.”