Many women in the Bay Area have been impacted by breast cancer in some way; our mothers, daughters, sisters, best friends, colleagues, roommates, ourselves, and yes, even the men in our lives can get breast cancer. According to Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco, there were 175,000 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 1999 (1 every 3 minutes), and 39,900 women were diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in 1999. There were 43,700 deaths from breast cancer in 1999 (one death every 12 minutes).
Some of us are fortunate enough to have access to medical care when breast cancer is diagnosed, but for most of us, our emotional needs are often overlooked. A cancer diagnosis can be emotionally overwhelming with so many decisions, so many unfamiliar and frightening terms, so many strangers involved in planning our treatment options. Fear is often a constant companion. What shall I do? What's going to happen to me? What about my family? What will insurance cover? Where do I go for information and help? Where can I find resources? Women say they feel like they are falling apart inside, yet sometimes think that they must not show how devastated they really feel. In the whirlwind of appointments, there is no time for the emotional side of this disease. However, emotional support is a vital component of breast cancer treatment.
When people are confronted with cancer, healing requires both emotional and physical assistance. A growing body of evidence confirms the importance of psychosocial interventions in dealing with breast cancer. Research on breast cancer support groups shows clinically significant outcomes for these groups. Spiegel and Bloom (1983) conducted an outcome study of women with metastatic breast cancer who were in supportive-expressive group therapy. They state that patients who participated in support groups with self-hypnosis training showed significantly less pain and suffering over the course of a year. The experience also significantly lowered mood disturbance for these women. The results of over ten studies conducted in the past twenty years confirm the idea that group interventions improve patient's mood, provide information, encourage active coping, and increase health-enhancing behaviors. Support groups can be an effective resource in many ways to assist members. For example, learning skills for anxiety management, developing coping strategies to adjust to life changes, and reducing the isolation that many women feel after their diagnosis.
In order to provide more options for women with breast cancer in the Silicon Valley, The Breast CancerTalk Project is emerging into the list of resources with therapist-led support groups. Along with colleagues, I have been working since last October (inspired by Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to develop this new organization. Visit our website for our Mission Statement and information.
Breast Cancer Web Surf Recommendation for the Month: The Breast CancerTalk Project
Breast Cancer Book Recommendation for the Month: Michael's Mommy Has Breast Cancer by Lisa Torrey, Hibiscus Press.