Benefits Of Having A Good Support Group While Battling Cancer Research Paper Samples
Life-threatening illnesses such as cancer can plague family relations, community structure, and spiritual or religious beliefs; however these support groups can also positively affect the individual cancer patient. Upon being diagnoses, cancer patients commonly experience symptoms of fear, questioning “why me?”, a sense of helplessness and/or hopelessness, imminent possibility of death, challenges to core beliefs and/or assumptions, future uncertainty, changes in interpersonal dynamics and relationships, and of course, reactions to painful and invasive medical treatments (Lindop & Cannon, 2001; Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). However, in the face of this adversity, there is also immense opportunity for personal growth and resultant positive changes in their lives during and after cancer treatment. Many of these positive changes are realized through support received by family and loved ones.
Support can be defined in many ways but is most generally considered as the perception and reception of love and feelings of being esteemed and valued. Also, it has been shown that when faced with distressing or life changing events such as diagnosis of a major medical illness such as cancer, people often turn to religion or spirituality; therefore, spirituality as a mechanism for support is also investigated in this paper. This essay demonstrates the importance and positive benefits of having a good support group, whether it be through family, friends, spirituality, or even online communication while going through invasive cancer treatments such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy.
Importance and Types of Support
There are many types of support available for those in the process of cancer treatment whether it is for breast, lung, colorectal, testis, melanoma, prostate, or something entirely different. The importance of support cannot be underscored enough and has been shown to have a positive effect to reactions of illness and even prolong survival of patients combating breast cancer (Spiegel 1992). Rates of breast cancer are on the rise from the already harrowing figure of striking approximately one in eight women in the West (Colombo, 2001). The causes are still largely unclear and therefore it is largely surmised that any women can get it. Cultural recognition of breast cancer has undergone a profound with the advent of awareness events such as breast cancer walks, fundraisers, and PSAs whereas prior to the 1990s very few openly talked about breast cancer. Overcoming fears, ignorance, and stigma against women and men with breast cancer has taken many years and acceptance of this disease has gone hand-in-hand with openness and availability support groups. Treatment types for breast cancer patients often include combinations of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy which may result in different needs for womens’ support (Lindop & Cannon, 2001).
Female patients with breast cancer have been shown to positively respond -- sometimes even prolonging their illness -- to support (Lindop & Cannon, 2001). Given that a large number of women are prone to this illness, it is important to research and implement the best support strategies that meet their needs. A study conducted by Lindop and Cannon (2001) investigated various types of support needed by women at different stages of their breast cancer treatment. Using a Likert scale (from ‘of no importance’ to ‘extremely important’) the females’ ranked answers to statements that were divided into seven categories: diagnosis, treatment, femininity and body image, family and friends, information, after care, and support. They surveyed almost 500 women between the ages of 26 and 58 in England and used statistical analyses used to evaluate this information: ANOVAS (one-way analysis of variance) for when they compared three independent variables and standard t-tests for two independent variables. Overall it was shown that women have a high level of need for support associated with their diagnosis of breast cancer. The group that had the highest needs were support were those who had wide local excisions or mastectomies which poses an interesting question of whether potentially distorted body image plays a role in their psychological aftercare and support needs. It was also shown that having a positive outlook was crucial to the survival of patients with breast cancer diagnosis and that familial, spiritual, and communal support can play a big role in supplying this positivity (Lindop & Cannon, 2001).
The most common type of growth experienced by cancer patients involves that of interpersonal relationships and thus family, friends, and the community as a whole is importantly connected to ones’ battle through a serious illness such as cancer (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). It has been shown over and over again that cancer patients develop deeper, more compassionate relationships with loved ones as well as an increased awareness of their own importance to others during the recovery process. Family plays a crucial role in supporting their loved ones through this process and it can be important to develop a dialogue for communication that is loving, supportive, and even spiritual. Even familial relationships that may have been rocky or broken in the past can be healed in the process of cancer recovery as individuals overcome their differences in order to support the cancer patient so that they may survive the illness.
Familial support can be realized in multiple forms. Simply put, the physical presence of close family members can have profound impact on recovery as the patient has physical evidence that others’ care enough to visit while in the hospital or during chemotherapy in their home. Also, support from family can play a huge role in alleviating the logistical help needed of an individual’s daily life. This is very important for mothers who undergo cancer treatment because they often have children to take care of and will most likely be unable to attend to their daily duties during the recovery process. This is when additional support in taking care of the kids by cooking, taking them to school and extracurricular activities, cleaning, helping them with homework, etc, can be a very substantive form of support for the cancer patient. In addition, emotional, psychological, and spiritual support by family members plays an important form in the recovery process despite it being less tangible.
During the process of recovery, it is important for the patient to stay social through the social support of family and friends. Social support has been positively correlated with overall well-being of the cancer patient and can be realized in a multitude of ways (Shipman, 1999). Simply conversing with the patient about their interests (e.g. who won the world series last night or how their neighbors’ cats are doing) can take one's’ mind off the illness and onto activities or events that bring them joy, peace, and serenity. Also, the family can play an important role in ensuring that the patient is getting the stimulation they need. For example, if an individual loves to play the violin or keep up with a sports team, the family should ensure that they are still able to do these activities and stay involved with the things they love and are passionate about.
A small but growing field of interest and research is that of posttraumatic spiritual growth and how people respond to religion and spirituality after being diagnosed with an illness such as cancer (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). For some, being diagnosed with a life threatening illness can cause severe questioning of their spiritual or religious purpose and lead to “spiritual decline” while for others a negative life event can lead to positive psychological and spiritual outcomes such as a renewed sense of purpose and spiritual awakening. A qualitative study conducted by Denney, Aten, and Leavell (2010) investigated the experience of 13 cancer survivors and evaluated their spiritual growth across several domains: general spirituality, spiritual development, spiritual coping, spiritual social participation, private spiritual practices, spiritual support, the motivating forces of spirituality, spiritual experiences, and commitment to spirituality. The aspects of spiritual growth that were not endorsed by participants in the study were their beliefs and values, history, and techniques for reconciling relationships. An outcome of the study was that two new domains of spiritual growth emerged: evangelism and the enhancement of spirituality of survivors’ family and/or friends.
Spirituality is often defined in an elusive manner and the spiritual or religious strategies employed by cancer patients are largely personal and varied. Examples of spiritual practices that could be used for support include prayer, meditation, visualization, Church attendance, spiritual reading, hypnotic singing, fasting, and alternative healing methods such as Reiki and Quantum Touch. While some of these practices are done in solitude, there is also opportunity for spiritual support from friends, family, and others in their faith community. Integrating loved ones into the healing process of their cancer recovery experience can have profound effects. The practices of group meditation and prayer or guided meditations with others can lead to a sense of community and dedication toward recovery.
It has also been described that spiritual cancer patients experience a heightened sense of divine purpose (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). Interestingly, Denney, Aten, and Leavell (2010) noted in their research that while no participants in the study reported a belief that God purposely gave them cancer, several of the respondents reported a belief that God or some higher power used their cancer experience for a spiritual purpose. Therefore, this heightened sense of purpose gave them a support mechanism and spiritual explanation for the overall meaning and purpose in their lives which is essentially for beating cancer.
The enhanced spirituality of family and friends compounds the self-support that one can receive through spiritual practices. Family prayer is one of the major forms that this can be realized. Through incorporating friends and family into their spiritual practices, cancer patients may have better support as their loved ones battle out the illness vicariously and have a deep sense of empathy with the patient. Posttraumatic growth is experienced not only in the individual but also in their family. It was reported that many husbands of cancer survivors experienced posttraumatic growth throughout the three years following the diagnosis (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). Evangelism also plays a role in cancer recovery as some individuals may feel compelled to communicate their cancer story and its connections to their faith to others. This is perhaps one of the most salient reasons why people people disclose personal information to others; not only to merely share their story but also to convince others to adopt their spiritual practices and beliefs.
Different cultures and genders may be more apt, receptive, or open to religious or cultural support. For example, studies often note that women, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans utilize spirituality more than other cultural groups in the face of adversity (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). These groups rely more heavily on spiritual or religious activities such as attending church and prayer for coping with cancer than their Caucasian counterparts. Therefore, in considering different support options for different ethnicities and genders, it may be important to considered cultural groups’ spiritual orientation and tailor their treatment approaches according to their receptivity of spirituality and religion.
The benefits of having community support can be realized in many ways such as cancer support groups physically in their community as well as community groups in online platforms. Support groups provide comfort for the cancer patient through opportunities to network, time to talk and share with others in order to not feel so alone, provides an extended family, and an open form to bring questions, worries, and concerns and receive feedback and positive assurance (Shipman, 1999). These support groups can either include family or disclude family depending on whether the individual wants to integrate their family to this group or if they desire a more anonymous forum to talk about their feelings and experiences. In some cases, these forms of support may not be available immediately and therefore recent increases in the use of social media and other online platforms for support groups has become popular.
One study investigated the support-group participation of cancer patients on the social media platform, Twitter, and their resultant health outcomes in comparison to a control group that did not participate in social media activities (Nam, 2014). Using 206 participants over the course of a one month long Twitter support group and networking program, it was empirically demonstrated a significant increase in “bridging social capital” and positively provided a form to seek and receive health and social support which fostered a sense of self-efficacy among the patients. Although the test could not derive conclusions during this short of an experiment on improvements on health outcomes, it is believed that these factors, overtime, will contribute to improve health outcomes of patients battling cancer. This study reaffirms the positive prospects of using social media as a forum to exchange emotional and medical support, aid collective networks of relationships, and reinforce self-efficacy. This cognitive empowerment for cancer patients enables them to take control of managing their disease and facilitates the positive outcome of overcoming their disease by improving their overall wellbeing.
There is also opportunity to receive this spiritual support virtually or from people they have never met, as cancer survivors have described receiving cards, letters, e-mails from people outside of their immediate network (Denney, Aten, & Leavell, 2010). This communication opens up their network of healing that could produce positive results for the cancer patient.
Overall there is positive and convincing evidence that support by family, friends, community, and spirituality can lead to positive results for cancer patients. The treatment options for cancer, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy, or rarely easy or painless, and therefore support groups are often essential to a successful recovery process. This support can come in many forms and are most often expressed through loving relationships and help by patients’ family and friends. The matter of spiritual growth over the course of cancer survivorship is an interesting one and often survival goes hand-in-hand with the spiritual support across several domains of religion or spirituality that an individual received. Without these forms of support, the patient might have a challenging time battling their illness alone.
Colombo, S. (2001). Battling cancer: law and life. Harvard Women’s Law Journal, 241-22.
Denney, R. M., Aten, J. D., & Leavell, K. (2010). Posttraumatic spiritual growth: a phenomenological study of cancer survivors. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 14(4), 371–391. doi:10.1080/13674671003758667
Lindop, E., & Cannon, S. (2001). Evaluating the self-assessed support needs of women with breast cancer. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 34(6), 760–771. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01806.x
Nam, Y. (2014). The effect of twitter social support on health outcomes and its mediators: A randomized controlled trial of a social support intervention on twitter for patients affected by cancer. University of Southern California.
Shipman, L. C. (1999). Attitudes and perceptions of breast cancer survivors toward support groups. California State University, Long Beach.
Spiegel, D. (1992). Effects of psychosocial support on patients with metastatic breast cancer. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 10, 113-120.
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