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The Purpose of Support Groups


When Alan was first diagnosed with cancer, we called the American Cancer Society (ACS) to get information on what chemotherapy would be like and what the side effects of radiation would be. Alan could barely think about any of that, much less talk about it with anyone, so mostly it was me that did the calling and the asking.

One day I called to ask about something small, and after answering my question in less than 10 seconds, the knowledgeable and helpful ACS representative began spouting out more useful bits of information. She told me about available support groups — support groups for cancer patients under 30, support groups for people with colorectal cancer, support groups for those who lived in the Bay Area. Pretty much if you had thumbnail cancer, ate vegetarian except for Tuesdays and after midnight on Saturdays, believed in wearing blue and only blue, there was a support group out there for you. I jotted them all down on a post it for Alan, thanked the representative and was just about to hang up when she asked, “And how are you? There are support groups I can tell you about that are for spouses and loved ones of young cancer patients, if you’re interested.”

I thought about it for a minute, but then told her no thanks. I could see how support groups like that would be helpful to some, but I really didn’t see the value of it for me personally since I was already in a virtual support group with everyone I’ve ever known. I also pictured a room full of people sitting in a big circle, or maybe smaller clusters of people sitting in a sort of lopsided circle. And there would be lots of crying, people weeping into other people’s shoulders. On my own, I was doing enough crying to fill a small lake, so I didn’t see how a support group would help me.

But now, now that Alan is in the very middle of the throes of his battle with cancer, I can understand what the support groups are for. They are for the supporters of cancer patients, the ones that see the cancer patients every day. It’s not for those who have just found out about their loved ones’ diagnoses, but for those who have been living with it for a few months. After a few months has gone by, the support group members don’t get together to cry and wallow in sadness. What happens is they get together to talk in great detail about what they are going to do to their loved ones (once they’ve beaten cancer) to punish them for being so incredibly difficult to live with.

It’d be a great forum to have such a discussion because whenever I try to talk to anyone about what a punk Alan’s being, what an emotionally fraught, hissy-fit throwing 13-year old he can be, everyone thinks that I’m just being mean. But it’s because they don’t know. They don’t know what a monster I am to him, how I ask him to wait a whole 2 minutes for me while I try on a bathing suit at Target and how earth shattering that is for him to have to wait 2 minutes. And when I’m feeling really sinister, I tell him it’s warm out (when it really is) so that he won’t bring a jacket when he leaves the house. Then after the sun sets, it will be all my fault for making the sun dissappear and for not telling him to bring something warm to wear.

Last modified: January 10, 2019