Online Cancer Support Groups

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology Social Work

FEBRUARY 19, 2019

How has a cancer support group helped you?

Many of you know that I am a very big fan of support groups. My long experience has been that this kind of community can be more helpful to many people going through cancer than any other kind of possible support. I am well aware that support groups are not right for everyone, but I can tell you that, over the years, many people have thrived in my groups who were initially very hesitant about participating.

The most common reasons given for not attending a support group include the (understandable and normal) worry about hearing distressing things and being burdened by others’ troubles. Then there are the logistics like place and time. Many people can’t take regular time away from work to attend a group so think they would prefer an evening meeting. What often then happens is that it feels too exhausting to go to a meeting at the end of an already long day. If the group was meeting downtown with traffic and parking issues, as was the case during my years at BIDMC, it seems even more daunting. Groups that meet in the community, including at the BIDMC Cancer Center's Lank Cancer Center in Needham are often more accessible.

As much of life has moved online, so have some support groups. Some years ago, I managed the Breast Cancer section for Revolutionhealth.com. This site was trying to compete with WebMD, and one of my responsibilities was to offer a weekly support group. We had participants logging on from all over the world, and it was really wonderful. It was especially impressive that women cared enough to get up in the middle of the night to sign in from distant countries.

Even without large geographic challenges, online groups can be an easy and wonderful resource for many people. Weather, distance, illness, childcare responsibilities and just busy lives may make it much simpler to participate from home. I continue to believe that being together in one room is even better, but being together virtually can be pretty wonderful, too.

Through a relationship with Cancer Connect, BIDMC offers an online cancer community, which is essentially a cluster of online support groups. If you have not already registered, it is simple to do so. Just go to cancercommunity.bidmc.org and scroll down the list on the right side of the screen to see all the groups. There are active forums for most kinds of cancer and cancer situations. These groups are actually forums or chat rooms, meaning that there is no specific time when everyone logs on. You can check in whenever you choose to do so.

BIDMC offers a number of real time support groups. For more information, click here. If you live in the New York City area, Cancer Care is an agency that provides many support groups; here is more information about their offerings. These groups are all facilitated by oncology social workers.group.

I strongly encourage you to explore the possibilities. Just turn to Google: "online cancer support groups".  And please share your story in the BIDMC Cancer Community