What is a cancer support group?
Cancer support groups provide an opportunity for people affected by cancer to meet for discussions in an emotionally supportive environment. Groups may also choose to engage in fundraising, advocacy, practical support or social and educational activities, according to the wants and needs of members.
Group members can discuss the impacts of diagnosis and treatment and access evidence-based information for themselves and for families and carers.
Cancer support groups are often a place of social connections, where people can learn not only to live with cancer but also to enjoy life during and after their treatment.
Support groups meet at locations and times that suit their particular members and offer activities determined by group members. Some groups have a specific-cancer focus (for example, a focus on breast or prostate cancer) while others are open to people affected by any type of cancer. Groups can also choose to focus on people sharing other characteristics, for example ethnicity or age group.
Cancer Council Victoria recognises more than 120 groups across Victoria, providing training and support to group leaders so members can feel safe and secure. Cancer Council Victoria will only refer people looking for a group to these officially recognised groups. Each cancer support group is an independent community group run by volunteers according to the need they identify in their community.
Every group is different so people thinking of attending a group are advised to try a few to find one that is a good fit for their needs. Cancer Council Victoria’s nurses can help you find a group that matches what you are looking for and put you in contact with the leader so you can find out more before you go - you can contact them on 13 11 20. You can also use this search tool to find out about groups that might meet your needs.
Interested in starting a new group?
If you would like to set up a group we would love to talk to you about your ideas, to help you create a safe and successful group. We would particularly like to talk to people interested in leading a groups focusing on rarer cancer types or serving the multicultural or LGBTI (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex) communities, as we know these are currently under-represented.
What makes a good leader?
It’s important that cancer support group leaders are stable in their own health and emotionally ready to take on the challenges and responsibilities of leading a group. Cancer Council Victoria recommends that leaders are at least 18 months to 2 years post-diagnosis.
Training is an important part of developing a leader’s communication skills and empathic understanding. It’s also critical in strengthening a leader’s ability to deal with confronting situations such as grief, loss, anger and dominating group members. Research shows that trained leaders are better equipped to provide a safe and nurturing environment and experience less difficulty than leaders without training.
Training for group leaders
Cancer Council Victoria recognises cancer support groups that commit to providing a safe emotional environment for members. Training covers topics such as forming a group, creating a safe environment, group dynamics and handling controversial topics or difficult conversations. A guide to setting up a cancer support group is also available and can be posted to you.
For details or if you feel there's a need to start a new group in your area, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 13 11 20 and ask to be connected to the Cancer Support Group Program Manager.