Helping others travel the journey from cancer to wellness can be the most rewarding adventure of all
Posted On September 6, 2022
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When you think of a cancer support organization, you probably imagine people who are dealing with the disease and helping them find ways to manage. But what if that organization is managed by people with cancer? When that’s the case, it’s called a peer-to-peer support organization. In a peer-to-peer support organization, members have the same disease or condition, rather than working in healthcare or social services related to it. The perspective they bring as peers is different from those providing services. They don’t know anything more than their fellow members; they just have an understanding based on personal experience that preferably comes from having gone through the same thing they are now helping others cope with. The value of a peer-to-peer support organization can be found in its ability to create community among those who understand each other and offer genuine support as friends and equals.
What is Cancer Support?
Anyone who has dealt with a serious illness knows that it’s not just a physical thing but also emotional, psychological and social. Cancer support organizations help people navigate those aspects of the disease. Sometimes, people need a special type of support related to the social aspects of their diagnosis, such as concerns about disclosure, discrimination and employment issues. A support group for people with breast cancer, for example, might be fantastic for connecting with others who are dealing with the same side effects of treatment as you are, but not necessarily helpful if you’re worried about how to tell family and friends that you have cancer.
The Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Support
The first and most obvious benefit of peer-to-peer support for people with cancer is that the people you’re working with have the same diagnosis as you do. They know what you’re going through and can offer advice, support, and encouragement based on personal experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to friends or family members who have cancer as well, but they aren’t experiencing it the same way you are now. Their advice may be just as helpful, but it may not be quite as relevant.
How Peer-to-Peer Support Works for Those with Cancer
A peer-to-peer support organization for people with cancer helps members connect with one another to share information and experiences. Some groups have regular meetings and may have online forums or social media groups as well. People with cancer who want to be part of a peer-to-peer organization usually have to be members themselves for a specified period of time. That’s one way that these organizations prevent abuse and misuse of the system. It’s also how they enforce high standards for the members they serve. Peer-to-peer support is not therapy or medical advice. Its primary goal is to offer encouragement, advice, or resources to help members feel better about their situation, navigate life with cancer, and connect with others who have it as well.
A Way to Escape the Limitations of Healthcare
Some people with serious illnesses feel like they need to be in therapy or with a psychiatrist to talk about how they feel about their diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Others prefer to be with people who have gone through the same thing they are now and can offer advice based on personal experience. For people dealing with cancer, there may be times when what they need is a break from medical professionals and the limitations of their care. When you’re in therapy, you’re expected to talk about your feelings, even if you don’t feel ready to do so. In a peer-to-peer support group, you can talk about what you want to talk about. The other members are listening to you not because they’re trying to help you but because they want to help themselves too.
A Path To Finding Meaning in Illness
Getting sick can be intensely frustrating, especially if the cause is unknown, as it often is with cancer. You don’t have control over your disease and treatment, and you may feel like you’re constantly being pushed to the side as people focus on what you can no longer do while you’re going through treatment. People in peer-to-peer support organizations often say that being around others who have the same diagnosis, and thus the same limitations, gives them a sense of belonging, of being part of a larger group of people who are experiencing what they are. That’s important, because feeling like you’re part of a larger community may be about more than just social support. Some people find meaning in their illness and a sense of control over it by turning it into a source of support for others like them.
A Vehicle for Finding Self-Care Strategies
Some people with serious illnesses want someone to listen to them and offer advice and encouragement. Others want to be shown how to help themselves. Peer-to-peer support organizations give members the chance to learn from one another and try out new ideas and approaches to managing symptoms and side effects. If you have cancer, you may be expected to put so much effort into managing your health and treatment that you don’t have time to look after yourself as well. Finding out what others have done that has helped them manage stress and stay healthy and happy can be an excellent resource for you.
Cancer can be terrifying and confusing. It can be difficult to find the support you need to get through it. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, peer-to-peer cancer support may be the best way for you to get the kind of help you need.
Dr. Ronald Bissell is a retired surgeon, author of 6 books on Personal and Spiritual Growth, writer of numerous articles and facilitator of workshops. He has been giving talks to help people with life-threatening diseases for the past 10 years. After three years of chemotherapy he recently had a bone marrow transplant to treat Multiple Myeloma. His work now involves helping others with life-threatening diseases as well as teaching people how to live their best lives without fear or anxiety.