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A New Experience for the Community

May 2004
A New Experience for the Community

Cancer Survival Groups:

A New Experience for the Community

The goal of a survivors' group is not to talk of the tragedy of disease but the challenge of living. Cancer patients have gone on to establish impressive careers, start families, forge new directions and savor life to the fullest.

An article appeared in the British Journal, The Lancet, by Stanford University School of Medicine psychiatrist, David Spiegel. He surprised the cancer community by reporting on a study he had conducted which demonstrated that patients in a support group lived longer than patients not in such a group. Thirteen years earlier, Spiegel had studied the short-term effects of group participation on 86 patients with advanced breast cancer. He undertook a follow-up study originally to disprove what he calls the "wish-away-your-cancer-types". What he found instead stunned him. Patients in the support group lived longer by a significant margin. The study has been highly respected because it was done in true scientific format. Patients were randomly assigned to the two groups. A number of researchers have since attempted to replicate the study and preliminary reports suggest that this has been done.

Time Magazine writes in a discussion of support groups: "Even with modern tools, medicine may still be far from finding all the body's hidden healers. In the meantime, thought, the search seems to be uncovering new ways in which doctors can help their patients". USA Today: reporting on a study with melanoma patients at the University of California, Los Angeles."

Dekalb Medical Center (DMC) offers more group experiences for cancer patients than any other facility in the state. There are seven weekly groups. Four of these groups are for patients and the others are for families and children of patients. The groups are structured with a survival format to address those fears so patients can learn how to get back to living productively. There are remarkable patients who have survived beyond any medical expectation.

The goal of a survivors' group is not to talk of the tragedy of disease but the challenge of living. Cancer patients have gone on to establish impressive careers, start families, forge new directions and savor life to the fullest. Our observations would lead us to surmise that there is something healing about taking control, conquering helplessness, planning for the future, listening to your body, understanding stress and embracing a belief system that leaves space for spiritual growth.

Patients are taught to embrace the miracles of modern medicine, to use their own inner resources to create a healing internal climate and to tap the spiritual component of existence for life of balance. The scientific research demonstrating the recovery potential from this model is impressive. But just as important, patients are able to go from a life of fear, helplessness and despair to a future filled with love and peace and hope. Norman Cousins wrote in the book Healers on Healing: Although we ought never to underestimate the seriousness of a medical problem, it is equally important never to underestimate the ability of the patient to mount a prodigious response to the challenge of disease.

A support group for women of South Asian origin with breast cancer will begin on June 2 at 6:30 and will meet the first and third Wednesdays of each month thereafter. The meeting will take place at Dekalb Medical Center in the auditorium located on the lobby floor of the office building at 2665 North Decatur Rd, across from the hospital. To register or get more information or directions, please call 404-501-5701. Dr. Gulshan Harjee, Dr. Jayanti Srinivasaih and Dr. Betty Castellani will conduct groups with support form Raksha.

Dr. Betty Castellani is the Director of the Cancer Center at DMC. She has been conducting support groups for several years.

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