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The experience of connection in groups for people with cancer Nitkin, Patricia Anne

Abstract

This study reports on the experiences of nine individuals with cancer who were members of a weekly relaxation support group for people with cancer and their families/friends. It was posited that existential concerns such as suffering, isolation, meaning and death become essential when people are diagnosed with cancer, and as a result, they need to connect with others going through similar challenges in order to address these concerns. A modified critical incident technique was employed to identify experiences that either contributed to, or detracted from, a feeling of connection between or amongst group members, group volunteers and/or group facilitators. The modification of the method was the inclusion of a participant-observer approach in which the researcher both facilitated the relaxation groups and conducted research on the group. Two sets of semi-structured interviews were held with the participants, asking them about their perspectives on connecting with other group participants, and about how those connections were nurtured or curtailed. The study yielded thirteen categories. The first eleven categories described significant experiences that contributed to connection and were labelled: being with people like myself; expressing my thoughts and feelings; freedom to be myself; relating to other people's cancer stories; knowing I can trust the people who run the group; helping others; experiencing care and touch from others; feeling that I belong here; sharing positive experiences around cancer; getting the help and support I need; connecting beyond the relaxation group. The remaining two categories described experiences that detracted from connection and were labelled: when I need to protect myself and aspects of the group that are not satisfying. Consistent with other psychosocial oncology research, results indicated that group support is effective in assisting people with cancer in coping with the effects of their disease. Links made to existentialism included an emphasis on a need to feel less isolated; a need to laugh, even in times of distress; a need to openly address painful emotions, suffering and death; and a need to belong. Suggestions for counselling were based on these findings as well as the importance of expressions of caring and physical touch such as hugs, therapeutic touch; linking patients with other patients; and trustworthiness and openness in sessions.

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