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The value of peer-led support groups

There is much to be said for support given by someone who has 'been there too' and that's why peer support is often recommended as a valuable option when recovering from serious illness or trauma.

If you've had a diagnosis of breast cancer, being in a well-facilitated, confidential space with others who 'know how it is' can be comforting, reassuring, informative and very helpful.

This type of support can be particularly valuable around the time of diagnosis because the person receiving such life-changing news may be totally overwhelmed, in a state of enotional shell-shock, and may also be feeling intensely lonely, as if they are the only person in the world who has ever had this happen.

Support groups such as those offered by Breast Cancer Support Aotearoa can offer advice, information (non-medical), guidance, and emotional support within an informal yet highly practical and confidential space.

Led by trained volunteers, the groups offer opportunities for sharing experiences, tips, and helpful information. It's also a place for talking about that loneliness, fear, the sadness, guilt, anger - all of those feelings that seem to fly in and roost for the long haul - and many of these sensations and emotional overloads are things that only someone going through the same thing can really understand. Support from partners, friends, and family is so important too but there is nothing like being with someone who 'gets it'. Words are often not necessary because there is a collective comprehension that goes deep.

The COVID pandemic saw the closure of so many 'in-person' community groups. Breast cancer support groups were no exception and they've had to adapt to an ever-changing community scene. Now, much support is given online via platforms like Zoom, or on the phone. While these forums lack the all-important 'being in the same room', they are still very effective and can offer so much to those at any stage of their breast cancer journey.

It can be daunting, reaching out for help when you're not used to doing that - and many of us aren't. Sometimes the tools and learnings we've used to cope with past traumas see us through but sometimes we are facing something so large and challenging, we don't know what to do or where to turn.

Always remember that help - and hope - can be as near as your phone or computer screen.

Just reach out.

From guest blogger Jane Bissell. Jane is an Auckland-based writer and life writing workshop facilitator,