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Cancer Support Groups Help Patients Heal Faster

Dr Umanath Nayak,
Consultant Head & Neck Oncologist,
Apollo Hospitals,
Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

Cancer is a disease that affects not just the body but also the mind and spirit of a patient. Treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery may succeed in destroying the cancer cells and cure a patient but psychological and emotional healing takes many years as well. Depression, feelings of isolation, loss of self-worth and social withdrawal are common symptoms most cancer survivors go through even after being declared cancer-free.

This aspect of care was rarely addressed in the past. Since oncologists were hard-pressed to deal with it, psychiatrists were called upon to help the patients and they often addressed the issue with sedatives or anti-depressants, which were woefully inadequate. In recent times, psycho-oncology as a sub-specialty has brought in a welcome change but there are very few trained professionals in the country and often the family or care-givers are left to deal with the issue all by themselves.

A voluntary self-help support group with similar background can have a major impact on the social and emotional recovery of patients. Sitting and discussing one’s fears with others with similar apprehensions can help overcome these anxieties.

Breast cancer support group, Ostomy Group and Laryngectomee Club etc, are common examples that can benefit a patient in alleviating anxiety, sorting out day-to-day issues and also help develop a close bond with similar people. Such groups are popular on the social media; but it is only by regular physical interaction that the real benefits of being part of these support groups show up.

Patients suffering from advanced throat cancer undergo a surgery called Total Laryngectomy that involves surgical removal of the larynx (voice-box) in advanced stages of the disease. Following the surgery, the patients do not breathe through the nose or the mouth, but through an opening created in the root of the neck called stoma. Also, since the voice box is removed, these patients (laryngectomees) are unable to speak normally and have to be trained to speak utilising special voice

restoration methods. These physical changes result in major lifestyle modifications which the laryngectomees have to undergo. Coping with these changes on their own can be extremely challenging and frustrating for the patients.

In this regard, The Laryngectomee Society, started in 1999, is one such support group which has worked towards a comprehensive rehabilitation program for all laryngectomees. Having such a platform is a major boost for institutions that regularly treat patients with throat cancer. The society provides guidance and support not only for voice restoration but also for patients’ physical, social, vocational and psychological rehabilitation. The members (laryngectomees) meet regularly and this helps nurture a strong bond among its members giving them the confidence to face the world.

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