The Value of Survivor Support
“It made me feel that being alone in this situation was not the loneliest feeling in the world. It made me realize that the other people were also going through the feelings I was having but dealing with them much better than I was. They were living their lives, not just existing.”
- Support group member, after her first meeting
Head and neck cancers and the treatments we fight them with often alter a patient’s appearance and sense of self more drastically than other kinds of cancer. Treatment may leave patients with swallowing, speaking or chewing problems; temporary or permanent loss of their normal voice; or facial disfigurement following surgery. In these cases, it’s crucial for patients and their loved ones to find support and guidance from people they trust.
Support groups offer a great resource for these patients and offer numerous benefits. Research suggests that these groups can help patients cope with cancer treatment, improve their overall quality of life, and may even increase survival rates. By connecting patients and families in a nurturing environment, support groups can help patients cope with three devastating stressors: feelings of isolation, loss of control, and hopelessness.
Many patients in support groups find that they eventually shift from being someone who needs support to someone who supports others. This subtle but powerful shift is probably the greatest testament to the power of these groups.
Fox Chase Cancer Center offers three support groups to help patients and their families cope with the impact of head and neck cancer. Patients who attend these groups can focus on their own needs and concerns while also listening to and helping other patients with their difficulties.
The Head and Neck Cancer Support Group is open to patients in any stage of their cancer journey. New patients typically come to this group for information before or during their treatment and are welcomed by survivors ranging from 1 month to 20 years post-cancer treatment.
The Laryngectomy Support Group helps people who have undergone complete removal of their voice box (larynx) and are facing total voice loss. Through rehabilitation, they regain the ability to communicate and benefit from talking with others about their experiences. The group is also a great stepping stone in adjusting to their ‘new voice.’
The Long Term Survivor Support Group is for those who are confronted with late-onset complications of their cancer treatment, such as feeding tube dependence or tracheostomy. Since serious late-onset complications are uncommon, this is an intimate group of survivors who often feel isolated by their impairments. Simply connecting and interacting with others who share an understanding of the life-changing effects of their treatment can be empowering.
If you or someone you know may benefit from a head and neck cancer support group, call the Speech Pathology Department at Fox Chase Cancer Center at 215-728-2622 for more information.
“Since meeting with the support group my attitude has changed completely. When I wake up in the morning my first thoughts are’ thank you for another day’ and ‘I am going to make the most of it.’”- Support group member