ASSEMBLING YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
One of your first steps after your diagnosis should be to establish a network of people who can help you. This network will include your loved ones, your peer support groups, and of course a solid team of healthcare professionals.
One of the most beneficial things you can do is join a support group. Support groups are groups of people who meet regularly, under the guidance of a trained facilitator, to discuss the participants’ concerns.
Programs are organized in a variety of ways. Some groups meet only a few times; others are long-term, enabling members to work through problems. Some are composed of people with the same disease site (for example, breast or colon cancer patients), others by patient age or background. Some are just for patients; others include family or other special people.
Support groups give you a chance to openly discuss your thoughts with others who are going through the same experience. Many hospitals consider some form of group counseling to be part of the standard treatment—as necessary as an exercise class, for example.
Visit the support group a couple of times before joining, so you can be sure that the peer mix meets your needs and expectations.
Friends and Family
Your loved ones will provide the emotional support and closeness you need, and help you sort out facts and fears. Try to select one person—your husband, partner, or best friend—who will accompany you when you meet with your doctors or go to your treatments. This companion can help you ask questions, remember information, or write down instructions. He or she can become the center of your support network, acting as your sounding board, helping you to evaluate information and to make decisions, coordinating support from friends and family, and at times shielding you from excessive attention.
Your Healthcare Team
Cancer is a complicated disease and no single physician can be an expert in all aspects of the treatment. Developing a treatment plan is a complex task that will involve a number of healthcare professionals—a real team of experts—who will give you their recommendations regarding surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Dr. Julie Reiland – “I’m part of a multidisciplinary team.”
Some hospitals and cancer centers already have such teams of breast cancer experts, called multidisciplinary teams. If yours doesn’t, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen for The Cure have resources that will help you find healthcare professionals to add to your team, or to give you a second opinion.