Q. I'd like to organize a support group for cancer survivors and people facing a cancer diagnosis. What do I need to do to get one started?


Support group has become a much broader term than many of us realize. What type of support group do you intend to start? At CancerCare, we offer three modalities of support group: including in-person, which is the format that most of us think of when we think of a support group; telephone, which is more like a weekly conference call that is moderated by an oncology social worker; and on-line, which is a message board format. Each modality has different features as well as limitations.

After deciding what modality of group will be most beneficial to your potential group members, you will also want to determine the content, structure and policies. Is your group about members sharing their experiences? Do you want an educational component with guest speakers? How often are you going to meet and where? Who is eligible to participate in the group? Who is going to moderate the group? What are the rules for discussion and maintaining privacy? What mechanisms are in place to enforce your group’s guidelines?

Familiarize yourself with existing groups. Local medical centers often offer support groups that are open to the community. Contact national advocacy organizations for specific cancer diagnoses, for example Us Too for prostate cancer, to find out if they have a chapter where you live. Cancer Support Community has a good overview of the process of creating a support group from scratch.