With strict orders to stay home and to social distance, the Oregon Cancer Foundation had to rethink how it serves cancer survivors in Lane County. Offering in-person services, including financial assistance and support groups and educational classes was no longer a safe option in the midst of the current health crisis. However, maintaining personal connections during this time of increased isolation has become more important than ever before.

“We realized this is not going to be over in a couple of weeks, and we’re going to need to make some adjustments to the way we do things, so we started problem-solving,” says Amy Johnston, Executive Director for Oregon Cancer Foundation.

A new avenue for connection
The foundation quickly transitioned all of its in-person support groups to an online format, providing a safe way for cancer survivors to continue connecting via their computers, tablets and phones.

“Having cancer is already an isolating experience in and of itself, and then when you are told that you have to stay home, that you can’t go out of your house unless it’s absolutely necessary, that need for connection becomes all the more important,” Amy says.

Participants in OCF’s Breast Cancer Support Group meet on the second Wednesday of the month. The group is designed for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage of their journey. Those in attendance share practical information and help each other process their feelings and stay positive. The support groups are peer-led by Katie Burke, the foundation’s resource coordinator who is an 11-year breast cancer survivor.

Deena, a regular participant of the group, initially believed she wasn’t the “support group type,” but after finishing treatment, she realized she had things she wanted to talk about with others who were more likely to understand how she was feeling.

“This group has been wonderful,” she says. “They can relate. They’ve been through it. They know what this feels like, and it’s amazing to have that.”

“A multitude of things go through your mind at this time that you have no control over,” says Tish, another participant. “This group is a safe place to talk about things you can’t talk about with your family or things your friends are tired of hearing about.”

Lynn was diagnosed is June 2019 and just finished treatment in January. She says the support group has been an invaluable resource.

“I had so many questions. I would read, and I would google for information, but these women had the experience,” she says. “They knew when I shaved my head how long it was going to take to grow back. It was great. It’s just good to connect, so that I’m not all by myself around this part of my life.”

Once the social distancing recommendations are lifted, Oregon Cancer Foundation’s in-person support group will resume. The online groups will also continue to provide local cancer survivors more options for connection.

In addition to its monthly support groups, the foundation is now offering “pop-up” support groups. They are held each Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. and noon. These 30-minute events offer survivors a quick face to face check-in, providing a pick-me-up or emotional boost, without having to commit to a longer, monthly group. More information is available on the OCF events calendar.

When is the right time to join a support group?
People join support groups at different stages in their cancer journey. Some feel they need emotional support shortly after diagnosis. Others find a support group beneficial once they’ve started treatment. Some people find support groups helpful once they’ve finished treatment and are coping with survivorship.

A typical support group session lasts 30 to 90 minutes and varies in size.

“I encourage people to attend at least two or three sessions, and at different times throughout their treatment and recovery. It can be beneficial and also change how you view support groups,” says Katie.

By attending multiple sessions, you’ll know if the group is right for you. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, consider attending a different group.

Support groups at Oregon Cancer Foundation are drop-in; anyone can attend at any time. For a list of cancer support groups and meeting schedule, click here.