Support groups lifelines to patients, families


The exhausting and debilitating treatment options in the wake of a cancer diagnosis often leave patients and their families feeling alone and overwhelmed.

While there are many admirable community groups throughout New Jersey seeking to bring patients and caregivers together, CancerCare, a national, nonprofit organization serving cancer patients, caregivers and the bereaved, has a vibrant New Jersey chapter that offers myriad services including online, phone and in-person support groups.

“Our clients need to feel a connection to others who are going through similar experiences,” explained Kathy Nugent, director of CancerCare’s regional programs in New Jersey. “Support groups provide a space for people to share what they are going through so they don’t feel so alone. Once someone connects through a support group, they have each other and it’s so very important to be able to share common concerns when battling cancer.”

Online support groups for patients

CancerCare’s online support groups are particularly popular because members can participate privately on their own schedules. The online groups are not live chats; participants apply to be accepted into the group and, once they are can access the group through a password-protected portal. Groups are held for 15 weeks at a time and are monitored by professional oncology social workers who offer support and guidance. After completing the registration process, members can participate in the groups 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Nugent said.

There are a wide variety of online support groups available for patients including groups focused on blood cancers, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, kidney cancer, ovarian cancer and many others. Additionally, “Healing with Words,” is an online therapeutic writing support group for cancer patients. 

CancerCare knows that this disease may impact anyone at any age. For this reason, there are online support groups for young adults with cancer and survivorship support groups for both adults as well as young adults who are post-treatment.

Online support groups for caregivers

Nugent explained that many of CancerCare’s clients are family members, loved ones and other caregivers. Therefore, the organization runs plenty of online support groups dedicated to these amazing people, as well. Support Groups include a Brain Tumor Caregiver Support Group, a Caregiver Support Group for Spouses/Partners, Caring for a Child with Cancer Support Group, Caring for a Loved One who is Post-Treatment Support Group, Caring for an Adult Child with Cancer Support Group and a Young Adult Caregiver Support Group, among others.

Bereavement support groups

Nugent and her colleague, Claire Grainger, the coordinator of New Jersey’s Healing Hearts Program, are particularly proud of the New Jersey CancerCare’s bereavement group program, which includes support groups dedicated to loss of a parent, spouse or partner and young adults who have lost a loved one.

Tomorrow’s Hopefuls, a group that’s now closed, created its own support group and became lifelines for its members. And those members raised over $35,000 from their participation in CancerCare’s walks and gala.

“Tomorrow’s Hopefuls was helpful to me because it was there I found a safe harbor to express myself in front of other people who had also just lost a spouse,” said Beth Wiesner of Mahwah. “I was able to express so many of the emotions I could not express elsewhere.” 

Phone support groups

Telephone support groups are also available and enable people to connect with others from around the U.S. with similar concerns. Groups bring together patients with brain tumors, metastatic cancer, pancreatic cancer and male breast cancer. Here is also a general cancer patient support group as well as a caregiver and loved ones’ telephone support group.

“Telephone access makes support groups available for everyone,” Nugent pointed out. “You don’t have to be available any particular time and day. You can work phone support groups into your own schedule.”

Face-to-face support groups

For those who are able to attend an in-person support group, there are several facilitated by CancerCare social workers in New Jersey. These include the Breast Cancer Support Group in East Windsor, the General Patient Support Group in Monroe and the Prostate Cancer Patient and Family Support Group in Plainsboro.

“Regardless of the type of support group one chooses to join, members all have something in common. Relationships — strong, lifelong relationships — are forged through CancerCare’s programs,” Nugent said. “Our clients come to have a strong connection to the organization, as well. Many feel they don’t have much control of their own situation, but they can join with others and pay it forward by supporting each other and the organization.”

To that end, the annual Walk/Run for Hope raises a lot of funds, thankfully, said Nugent, since CancerCare is fully nonprofit and doesn’t receive any government funding. The 2017 walk raised more than $100,000 for the New Jersey Chapter; the 2018 edition will be held in September at Bergen Community College. Additionally, Nugent hopes the organization’s 30th annual Festival of Hope, set for May 8 at the Park Savoy in Florham Park, meets its goal of raising $130,000 this year. Tickets are available at www.cancercare.org/festivalofhope.

To access specific information about any of CancerCare’s support groups, visit www.cancercare.org or call 201-301-6809.