Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why a Support Group?

My introduction to support groups came years ago when co-dependency was the buzz word among lay people and psychologists. I had reached the point where I couldn’t answer the simple question, “How are you today?” without first consulting with my three children. If all was well with them, all was well with me. I was never happier than my least happy child. Seldom were all three problem free, which meant I was seldom happy. Having decided that I fit the criteria for codependency (don’t all mothers?), I finally sought help.

The psychologist thought I would benefit from joining a group of other “co-dependents.” Being a rather private person and new to psychotherapy, I wasn’t eager to share my neuroses with a group of strangers, but since it was more economical than private sessions, I agreed. I was not comfortable at the meetings. I feared judgment; I didn’t really want them to know that I was a sick puppy. I became even more reticent when I realized that compared to the others, my problems were trivial. If I was a sick puppy, they were dying dogs. After sticking it out for several months, I left the group. The only therapeutic value came in the realization that I wasn’t as bad off as I thought.

Despite that negative experience, I am a zealous believer in support groups for cancer patients and caregivers. When Jim was diagnosed, I was desperate to find a group of people who understood what we were going through. I needed to know that survival was possible. I needed someone to help me sort through the maze of a cancer diagnosis. When we couldn’t find a group that met our needs, we started our own—f.a.i.t.H.--facing an illness through Him.

The members of f.a.i.t.H. are bound together by shared experience and a mutual foe—a killer disease. In this group, we do more than regurgitate our pent up hostilities and personality disorders with the sole purpose of catharsis. We do express our emotions without fear of judgment, but something magical happens when our burdens are shared with those who truly care about us and want to help. We are a proactive group intent on helping each other. In my first support group, the members were focused on their personal problems. In this group, the members focus on each other’s problems. We en-courage each other with the same encouragement we have received from God.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” ( 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5).

If you are reluctant to join a support group, I ask you to consider some of the benefits:

1. The exchange of information.

A. How to control side-effects

B. Dietary concerns & recipes

C. Available protocols

D. Insurance information

E. Books

F. Oncologists

G. Treatment centers

H. Available trials

2. Reassurance that your feelings are normal.

3. Encouragement that others have survived cancer with prognoses as grim as your own.

4. Hope

5. Prayer support

6. Fellowship

7. Laughter

A good support group provides answers to the questions that most of us ask when confronting serious illness: How can I survive this? What happens if I don’t?

Most importantly, we come away from meetings knowing our concerns will be lifted up to the Ultimate Physician who can actually empower us for the battle we face. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 20).