Especially after having gone through a life-threatening illness? Do we want reminders of what may have been a difficult time for us? Apparently, we do.
Wendy Griffith, LCSW, a senior social work counselor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says there are many benefits to support groups. “Support groups offer the chance to connect with other people, often leading to friendships that last long after the group is over,” she says. “They also provide the freedom to talk about your experience in an honest way with people who don’t know you or anything about you, allowing you to be vulnerable with less risk. Support groups also provide coping and communication skills and helpful tips.”
Tiffany Meyer, LCSW, a senior social work counselor at MD Anderson, also speaks of the many benefits. “Support groups help lower one’s sense of isolation and that they’re alone, increasing their sense of community,” she says. “They do a lot to instill hope and resiliency.”
Two MD Anderson patients and a caregiver express how they have benefited from attending a support group, and how their experience helped improve themselves, their families and their relationships. The patients also reflect on how grateful they are to the caregivers in their lives.
Colin Clarke, 45, of Spring, Texas, president of MCT Brattberg Inc., a manufactu
rer of fire protection products for the offshore industry, was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer, in 2015. While at MD Anderson for treatments, he’d seen posters for ‘MD Anderson BEST: Brain Tumor Education & Support Together,’ a support group for brain tumor patients. He asked himself, ‘Why do I want to go there? What can they tell me?’ He didn’t want to know more about it. He knew all he needed to know, or so he thought.
He then decided to give it a try. “You think you’re an expert and don’t need advice,” he says. “But it was practical advice: what to do should you have a seizure, what to do if you can’t stand in the shower, things you should ask your doctor, how to get through chemotherapy, and more.”
Colin has found the support group to be so helpful, he now tries to attend the groups offered both at MD Anderson, located in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, as well as one in his neighborhood. And, he now realizes he didn’t know all he thought he did.
He also reflects on his gratitude for the caregivers who were there for him during his journey. His wife, Yvonne, not only offered him emotional support, but practical support as well. She is in a doctoral program for nurse management, and has many years of medical experience and familiarity with much of the terminology and processes in the treatment of cancers. She asked the pertinent questions, took notes and discussed everything with Colin after his appointments.
Yvonne helped Colin celebrate each phase of his treatment, whether with a weekend getaway; a trip home to Scotland; a dinner out to his favorite Mexican restaurant, Pappasito’s, without his baseball cap; and many more.
Colin was touched by the outpouring of kindness from his friends: one friend’s son volunteered to take Colin to every radiation treatment. Close friends looked after their children. Many friends invited them over or brought food for the family. Others took him out to have fun.
Colin was most concerned about making sure his No. 1 caregiver, Yvonne, took time for herself, and accepted help from others. After all, he says, the caregiver must deal
with the diagnosis as well.
Tom Magliaro, 73, of Sugar Land, Texas, and owner of TM Hair Restoration in Houston, never realized just how impactful a support group could be. A lymphoma survivor, he attends the Lymphoma/Myeloma Support group, and has connected with others fighting the disease or in remission.
“This is the greatest gift ever given to me,” Tom says. “It’s made me feel abnormally normal. By sharing my feelings, I know I’m not alone.”
Tom says the support group is a constructive tool for learning how to cope, giving him hope and confidence. More than anything, he feels support groups are the perfect outlet for transparency; they offer the ability to freely share feelings of fears, and bare one’s heart and soul.
He also is very thankful for his caregivers, or advocates, as he calls them, who made sure he ate, rested and was well taken care of. “My wife, Randi, was at every treatment and scan, every step of the way,” he says. “And these treatments lasted 7-8 hours.”
Tom always was overjoyed when his three young grandchildren brought him art drawings to cheer him up. And of course, his two daughters and their husbands were very supportive.
Marvin, his dog of 13 years who is named after the friend who gifted him with the dog, gave him unconditional love, often propping his head on Tom’s lap when Tom was home resting from treatment. Sadly, Tom recently had to put Marvin down, after his health had declined.
Kim Cunnea, of Shorewood, Ill., was by her husband, Bill’s side, as he went through treatment at MD Anderson for a rare type of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Feeling alone since she was far from home, Kim sought others she could talk to, and found a support group for caregivers.
“Right away I could tell how helpful this group would be to me,” she says. “Being with others who have gone down the same path made it easier. It definitely gave me a sense of not being alone. They also reminded me to take care of myself, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty if I felt angry or upset. It all felt very safe.”
Last fall, Kim began serving on the MD Anderson Patient Advisory Council for patients and caregivers.
MD Anderson offers 39 support groups in nine locations throughout the Houston area to help patients, family members and caregivers cope with a cancer diagnosis.
By: Leslie Friedman