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Q. My brother was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer and it's supposedly rare. How can I find other patients or organizations that can help support him?

A.

A cancer diagnosis can feel very isolating, particularly when the diagnosis is a rare one. Helping your brother find community and social connection through a support group is one way to help to reduce those feeling of isolation. In addition, groups can be a valuable source of emotional support, resources, and information from others going through similar experiences. While it may be difficult to find a group specific to people with salivary gland cancer, there are many excellent supportive resources available.

For example, CancerCare offers a number of face-to-face, telephone and online support groups. To learn more about our current offerings and how to register, you can contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673) to speak to one of our professional oncology social workers. Other organizations like the Rare Cancer Alliance offer patient forums geared towards those with rare conditions. Similarly, the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) hosts groups through an email listserv, including a Rare Cancers Online Community.

You may also want to explore peer-matching services offered by organizations like Cancer Hope Network, Imerman Angels and WhatNext. They work to match patients with one-to-one support provided by those with a similar cancer history.

Finally, disease-specific organizations (e.g., The Oral Cancer Foundation, Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer) can provide additional guidance and information. They frequently offer their own patient forums in addition to other services like education, advocacy and resource referrals.

Q. I was just diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer. My oncologist has admitted that he has not treated this type of cancer before, and I feel uncomfortable having him guide my treatment planning. Where can I get additional information about my cancer and typical treatment approaches?

A.

It is understandable that you have questions after receiving your diagnosis. It’s also understandable that you wish to consult with a medical professional who is both familiar with and has experience in treating your type of cancer. Although oncologists, like your doctor, are specially trained to provide medical care to people diagnosed with cancer, many have specific areas of expertise. As you face important treatment decisions, it is important to have vetted information to inform your choices, provided by someone who specializes in your type of cancer.

Many people choose to get a second opinion in the circumstances you describe. A second opinion provides an opportunity to have your diagnosis and projected treatment plan confirmed by another medical professional. These consultations may also offer additional medical information about your diagnosis and additional recommendations or treatment options to consider. Speak with your oncologist about your interest in consulting with a specialist. He may have referrals for you. Otherwise, reach out to an organization associated with treating your type of cancer, academic medical institution, or National Cancer Institute-designated facility. Although your cancer is rare, there may be medical professionals who are familiar with the disease, available to guide you. NCI also offers additional information in their fact sheet How to Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility If You Have Cancer.

CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers are able to answer any additional questions you may have about getting a second opinion. To speak with an oncology social worker, please contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673). CancerCare also has e-booklets and publications on improving communication with your health care team.

Q. I have a very rare cancer, and it is called well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumor (carcinoid). I have been told there is not a cure for this type of cancer, but I am hoping to find a support group (or people to chat or do activities with). Can you help me?

A.

A support group can be a wonderful way to find social connection, resources and information from others going through similar experiences. Although your cancer is rare, there are still excellent supportive resources available.

For example, a disease-specific organization like The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation offers its own patient forums in addition to other services like resource referrals, education and advocacy.

Other organizations like the Rare Cancer Alliance offer patient forums geared towards those with rare conditions; they offer one for those diagnosed with carcinoid tumors and one for those with neuroendocrine tumors. Similarly, the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) hosts groups through an email listserv, including a Carcinoid Cancer and Neuroendocrine Tumors Group.

You may also want to explore “peer-matching” services offered by organizations like Cancer Hope Network, Imerman Angels and WhatNext. They work to match patients with one-to-one support provided by those with a similar cancer history.

Finally, CancerCare offers a number of general face-to-face, telephone, and online support groups that may meet your needs. To learn more about our current offerings and how to register, you can contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673) to speak to one of our professional oncology social workers.