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?


To organize a support group where you live, start by researching what groups currently exist. Local medical centers often offer support groups that are open to the community. The American Cancer Society maintains a resource database that lists many local groups. You can reach out to group leaders for guidance and tips. Contact national advocacy organizations for specific cancer diagnoses, such as UsToo for prostate cancer, to find out if they have a chapter where you live.

Practical group details include finding a time and place for your group to meet, publicizing your meetings, and deciding how often to meet. It’s helpful to identify group guidelines and goals, and to think about how you as a leader, will help achieve them.

Questions you need to answer:

  • Who can participate in the group (patients, family, friends, professionals)?
  • What are the rules for discussion and maintaining privacy?
  • Should certain controversial topics (for instance, religion or sexuality) be “off limits”?
  • What mechanism will be in place to enforce your group’s guidelines?

Discussing these issues with the group and writing down your decisions can be useful later on for resolving any conflicts. From our years of experience in organizing and running support groups, we have found that answering a few simple questions can help you run an effective, successful group.

I’d also recommend reading The American Brain Tumor Association’s brochure, Organizing and Facilitating a Support Group.