Cancer support groups are found in every state, and many exist for specific types of cancer, but what about a group for a cancer as rare as mesothelioma? That kind of support has seemed like a pipe dream to anyone diagnosed with the rare cancer.
With a little help from technology, that dream became a reality in May when the first mesothelioma-specific support group gathered online, uniting mesothelioma patients, caregivers and survivors throughout the country.
The first gathering was a success, and last week the growing group met for the second time to learn about how stress affects cancer, and to simply offer support to anyone coping with mesothelioma.
The support group, which meets the second Wednesday of every month, is led by Dana Nolan, a licensed mental health counselor who works closely with cancer patients and their caregivers. Each month, Dana starts the support group session with an informational presentation on a topic relating to cancer and psychology, and then participants are invited to ask questions and share experiences. This month addressed a hot topic: how stress impacts cancer.
Does Stress Cause Cancer?
Dana kicked off the presentation with a telling fact: Many patients believe that stress is a cause of their cancer.
Because mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, patients with this cancer may not place as much emphasis on stress, but many people with mesothelioma do fear that stress will negatively impact their prognosis or even shorten their life expectancy. Some people also fear that stress will cause their cancer to come back after successful treatment.
All that stress about stress can’t be good, but how bad is it?
Studies prove that psychological stress alone doesn’t cause cancer. That’s a relief. But experimental studies have also shown that psychological stress can impact the spread (metastasis) and growth of a tumor.
Studies on mice reveal that tumors are more likely to grow and metastasize when the mice are experiencing chronic stress. But even though stress impacted tumor growth in the studies, overall cancer survival wasn’t affected, indicating that stress didn’t shorten life expectancy.
What researchers do know is that cancer patients who practice better coping strategies for stress do enjoy a better quality of life. The National Cancer Institute recommends the following tactics to help cancer patients reduce psychological stress:
- Learn techniques for relaxation
- Take a meditation class
- Attend cancer education classes
- Reach out for social support
- Join a support group
A Safe Place to Share
Because mesothelioma is rare in comparison to other cancers, it is challenging for patients and caregivers to find and connect with others who can relate firsthand. Sure, general cancer support groups may be available, and they do offer a great forum for mesothelioma patients to feel supported. But nothing beats connecting with someone who understands your condition on a personal level.
Since participants can join the group online or over the phone, people across the country can easily connect with others affected by mesothelioma.
“We’re hoping that the fact that we are online makes it a little more palatable and not quite as scary, because you don’t have to walk into a room filled with strangers,” Dana says. “You can just sit in the comfort of your own home on the telephone or on the computer and ask your questions.”
After the informational presentation, participants asked questions and shared personal experiences. Some of the topics addressed included treatment options and how they affect quality of life, coping strategies, and ways caregivers can take care of themselves throughout the experience.
One caregiver strongly encouraged other caregivers to take care of themselves, while another participant emphasized the importance of living for today and remaining in the present moment. A wife who couldn’t speak with her husband about his diagnosis for two months shared that joining the group was her first step in talking about cancer with others — a testament to how important this support is for the mesothelioma community.
Two main goals of the monthly sessions are to provide a space for people to feel safe to share their emotions and to connect with others who can relate. Though mesothelioma can feel like a nightmare to anyone coping with the disease, the ability to share with others personally affected by mesothelioma is no longer a dream.
Have you participated in a cancer support group? Or have you considered joining a support group? Let us know by leaving a comment below, or by visiting our Facebook page.