What are cancer self-help and support groups?

People get together at cancer self-help and support groups to help each other with emotional and practical support.

Being with people who really understand what you are going through is called peer support and it can be a great help at difficult times.

Joining a group could be beneficial at any point on your cancer journey, such as soon after diagnosis or if you need support further down the line.

People living with cancer say that spending time talking with others who have a shared experience benefits them in many ways.

What are the benefits of joining a group?

Some of the benefits of joining a group can include:

  • gaining a sense of community and knowing that you are not alone
  • listening to and learning from the experiences of others
  • participating in activities to support your well-being
  • sharing common feelings and coping strategies
  • making new friends, being more confident and enjoying yourself.

What happens at a cancer self-help and support group?

Groups may cater for people with any type of cancer or for those with a specific cancer, such as bowel cancer. Groups can often support partners and families too. Every group is different so it’s worth finding out how a group could help you.

Some common group activities can include:

  • meeting for tea or coffee and a chat, getting to know each other and learning how best to support one another
  • listening to invited guest speakers on a variety of topics
  • taking part in crafting, art, creative writing or singing
  • organising physical activities such as walking, swimming, table tennis or cultivating an allotment.

Groups meet on a regular basis, perhaps monthly or weekly, in community venues or in public spaces such as cafes. Some groups only meet face to face, whereas others use a combination of in person and online meetings. Group members may keep in touch through a closed Facebook group or WhatsApp group.

Watch a video about The Living Tree cancer self-help and support group in Dorset.

Finding a group

Many groups have their own website and social media such as a Facebook page. You can find a group by searching online with keywords.

To find local groups, search the In Your Area directory on the Macmillan website and filter with the option ‘Practical help and support’.

You can also call the Macmillan Support Line on 0800 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am - 8pm) to find out about local services.

Other ways to find a group include:

  • asking your Cancer Support Worker or Clinical Nurse Specialist at the hospital
  • asking the Social Prescriber or Care Navigator at your GP surgery
  • contacting a Cancer Information and Support Centre (these are listed on our In Your Area directory)
  • contacting a local carer’s organisation or by asking at your local library.

Before attending a group, it’s always a good idea to get in touch to check all the meeting details. The group’s contact person could also support you to attend for the first time or send you any links for online meetings.

If you would like to set up a group, please contact your nearest Macmillan Engagement Lead who can help.

Peer support is also available through our online forum by joining Macmillan’s Online Community.