Monday, March 14, 2016


Dealing with illness? Don’t go it alone

For anyone coping with a serious illness, the sense of being alone can be both frightening and overwhelming. Well-meaning friends and family may offer support, but there’s nothing like sharing the journey with someone who truly understands what you’re going through. That’s where support groups can be a real lifesaver.

Support groups can help patients connect with others going through similar experiences, learn new ways to cope with particular challenges, and, quite simply, provide relief from knowing you’re not alone. Need proof? Studies have shown that participation in support groups helps eases depression and anxiety while increasing quality of life and coping abilities.

I spoke with Barbara Sinko, a medical social worker who has worked here at Backus for 27 years, about the benefits of support groups. She has hosted various support groups at Backus, including the upcoming Breast Cancer Support Group starting on April 19. “Support groups offer complete acceptance. It’s a safe place where patients can say things they wouldn’t say to a family member,” she explains. “They’re talking to people who have gone through the same thing, which makes a big difference.”

Besides a safe place to share, what are some other reasons to join a support group? “Empowerment,” says Barbara. “You can learn a lot about your illness, how to ask questions at your doctor appointments, and what to expect. For example, at our breast cancer support groups, we have members at every stage of the journey—from the newly diagnosed to people in active treatment to survivors. Watching these women share their stories and learn from each other is incredible. I’ve seen the birth of many friendships at these groups.”

For people who are unsure or nervous about joining a support group, Barbara shares, “I tell people to just give it a shot. Try coming to a group at least two or three times before making up your mind. Support groups may not be for everyone, but pretty much everyone can walk away having gained something. We can’t change your diagnosis or treatment, but we can all learn from and support one another.”

And when it comes to support groups, there’s something for everybody. If you don’t like the idea of face-to-face support groups or if transportation is an issue, online support groups may be more your speed. For example, offers free online support groups lead by social workers who specialize in cancer. Whatever support group you join, make sure it helps empower and uplift you. If it doesn’t, don’t give up—look for another group that suits your needs.

For those of you who like the idea of meeting in person, your local hospitals and community centers are good places to seek out support groups. At Backus, we’re offering a monthly Breast Cancer Support Group starting April 19 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in main lobby conference room 2. It’s free and we’d love to see you there. You can call 889-8331, ext. 3870 for more information. Visit and click on “Health & Wellness” and then “Classes & Events” to find support groups in your area, or call 1-855-HHC-HERE. Remember: you are not alone! Get the support you need for a happier, healthier life.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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