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Posted: Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New breast cancer support group offers hope and validation

If you’re one of the millions of women (or men) who have battled breast cancer or currently are fighting the fight, then you know how apropos the terms “battle” and “fight” really are. For many, the struggle is internal, both for the obvious reason that you’re fighting something inside your body and because it also becomes a battle of will fought in your mind. As your body takes the brunt of the physical ordeal, your mind is left to come to grips with the questions, uncertainty and fear that come with a cancer diagnosis. But just because the battle is fought inside yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.

On Tuesday, March 24, the Blount Memorial Cancer Center will launch a new breast cancer support group that will meet weekly and is open to all members of the community, regardless of where they’re receiving treatment. Licensed marriage and family therapist Lauren Passarello, Ph.D., from Blount Memorial Counseling & CONCERN will lead the group. “To me, conducting a group ultimately is about validation,” Passarello said. “We have breast cancer patients who come through our office looking for a support group. Our doctors know that the patients they’re working with need other people to talk to about what they’re going through. No one else is going to be able to validate them as well as someone who also is going through the same experience,” she explained.

Passarello says the benefits of a support group are numerous. “The participants can encourage each other, make suggestions, cry together if they need to and, most importantly, they’ll be able to give each other hope,” she said. “Whether it’s financial issues or worries about their children, they’ll have someone who can say to them ‘This is how I got through it. I have been there, and look at where I am now.’ My job will be to facilitate that kind of sharing, but I’m also going to try to incorporate some holistic ideas, such as encouraging them to write a journal or teaching them some mindfulness techniques to cope with anxiety or stress. I’ve heard people comment on other support groups, saying things such as ‘I don’t know if I want to go because I don’t want to hear about other people’s problems. I have enough problems of my own.’ It’s pivotal for people to be able to tell their stories, but the goal is to move participants forward in their overall healing. Sharing with others who are experiencing the same medical issues will create an environment for learning from each other,” she explained.

“We want to offer a safe environment for people who are experiencing breast cancer to get support, feedback and validation,” Passarello said. “We want them to be able to express themselves. Often, patients fear burdening their family and friends with their feelings about what is happening to them. Other times, they’re afraid to express their anger and fears as they wish to protect their family and friends or project an image that they are ‘okay.’ With this group, there will be an avenue for people to feel totally safe. Everything will be confidential, of course, so they can say anything they want to in the group,” she said.

“I think it’s a service to the community that Blount Memorial can offer. As our hospital says, it’s ‘close to home.’ There are other support groups outside of Blount County, but if someone doesn’t feel well, they may not want to drive 25-30 miles into Knoxville. They want something close. Plus, they’re fostering relationships with people who are local,” she said.

The support group’s first meeting will take place Tuesday, March 24 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Blount Memorial Cancer Center’s conference rooms 1 and 2, which are located on the second floor. For more information, call 865-977-5534.

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