When you’re going through a major illness like mental illness or breast cancer, it’s important to have people to listen, to care, and to help you. Family and friends can provide support to a certain point, but having support from a group of people who know what you are facing is even more important. It’s easier to confide in people who understand what you are going through because they have been where you are or are still traveling the same or a similar path as you. You can find these people in a support group.
Support groups are beneficial in many ways. You may say you feel uncomfortable talking to a group of strangers, but these strangers know more than anyone what it’s like to be in your shoes. I joined Linked By Pink breast cancer support group in August right after my double mastectomy. After only two meetings I feel like I was meant to join. The first meeting I received hugs and I was able to speak openly about what I was struggling with. I usually find it hard to talk in a crowd of people I don’t know. In a group of strangers I usually sit quietly and say nothing unless spoken to, but I felt differently at Linked By Pink.
I learned that there are many benefits to support groups: learning new coping skills, learning to talk openly about feelings, making new friendships, feeling less lonely, getting out of the house, reducing stress, depression and anxiety, learning about new treatments, comparing doctors, and finding new resources. To me these benefits are something I felt like I couldn’t pass up. I have many friends, but none truly understand what I’m going through. I’ve had to explain to several of my friends what a compression sleeve is and what lymphedema is. It’s nice to meet with a group of women once a month who know exactly what these are.
Make sure you do some research to find the right support group for you. There are many types of support groups that focus on specific issues like mental illness, abuse, divorce, grief, and so on. You have to feel comfortable in the group you join. If you don’t, try another one. When I was self-injuring, I joined a support group for self-injurers. The group seemed to be very negative and the people running it seemed worse off than those attending. I felt uncomfortable and had to quit the group. It didn’t give me the warm, caring and compassionate vibes I got from just attending my first meeting of Linked By Pink.
It’s important to know the main reasons why support groups are formed and what makes them important to your needs. Linked By Pink was started in October 2008 to provide support to young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Norma Zimmer, president of Linked By Pink, told me in an email, “Women who started working on a calendar project to raise funds for other organizations found out how helpful it was to be with other young women to compare notes on treatments and emotional issues. So they started a support group called Link By Pink.”
Some support groups provide more than just emotional support. They also provide a range of services like financial grants, scholarships, and so on.
Programs and services Linked By Pink provides are:
- Comfort gift bags to anyone diagnosed with breast cancer
- Gift cards to members for meals after surgery
- Grants to help with Medical, Travel, and Living Expenses available to anyone diagnosed under the age of 55. (In 2017 they awarded over $60,000 to local women and their families in grant money alone)
- House cleaning for stage 4 members
- Healthy lifestyle programs to help members learn about preventing recurrence
- Christmas presents to families of members who have passed
- Monthly support meetings
- Online peer to peer support
- Online peer to peer support for co-survivors and caregivers
- Seven college scholarships totaling $5500 given out annually to Erie County high school students who have had a family member diagnosed
I received a comfort gift bag when I first learned I had breast cancer. Jael Norman Lippert, Managing Director, delivered the bag. She gave me a hug and said a prayer for me. It was right then I felt like I wasn’t alone. I also received the medical, travel, and living expense grant. This grant removed the worry of paying bills while I was off from work. My disability at work only paid me $57.00, not enough to live off of. My husband and I need both our paychecks to make it week by week. The grants eased my anxiety about paying bills.
Linked By Pink is focused in Erie, Pennsylvania. If you are from out of state, check with your doctor for local support groups, talk to nonprofit organizations, search the internet for National Institutes of Health websites for your specific illness, and join online support groups.
You can find out more about Linked By Pink at http://www.linkedbypink.org/. You must attend one meeting to be added to the Facebook group.
Take the steps you need to find recovery by joining a support group. Support of all kinds is very important, and when family and friends are not enough, turn to a group of people who have experienced or are experiencing what you are. It helps to have people who understand you.
I plan on attending many more Linked By Pink meetings. I am willing to learn, to find support, and grow within a group of women who are survivors. I stand within their beacon of light of support and strength.