Men's Group Supports Prostate Cancer Patients
At each weekly meeting of the prostate cancer patient support group in Greenbrae, Calif., group co-facilitator Stan Rosenfeld always looks for the newcomers.
The new guys are easy to recognize, he says: "Most are men who are newly diagnosed. They've got the shock of having cancer in an area of their body that a lot of guys don't know much about, which is an additional puzzlement to them." Mr. Rosenfeld and other long-time members of the group remember what it was like for them years before - the confusion, the hunger for information, and the welcome empathy from other people who had gone through the same experience.
They start each meeting by "focusing on any newcomers," he notes. "They get special treatment, including a big packet of information. We can easily spend an hour talking with one new guy," answering his questions and reviewing his pathology report and other information to hone in on his diagnosis and treatment options. "They see all these guys at the meeting, most of whom have survived many years after diagnosis and treatment," Mr. Rosenfeld adds. "That can be very encouraging."
Stan Rosenfeld joined the group in 1998 shortly after his diagnosis with prostate cancer. It was one of the first men's support groups for prostate cancer and is affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"When the group got started, doctors were reluctant to send patients to support groups for fear the patients would get some advice contrary to what the physicians were offering," Mr. Rosenfeld recalls. "That's all changed. Now when a patient asks 'What do I do? How can I get more information?' the first thing doctors and their nurses will tell them is to join a support group."
Rosenfeld credits this change to the quality and up-to-date information provided by group leaders and the careful training most of them receive from the American Cancer Society's Man to Man program (www.cancer.org) and the Us Too organization for prostate cancer (www.ustoo.org).
The group Mr. Rosenfeld helps lead draws between 20 and 25 people to each meeting. They include mostly men, but the group is also open to spouses, family members, and friends. "About half of the attendees are guys who are trying to make their treatment decisions," he adds. "Often a guy has many good treatment options to choose from, including surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. That can be very confusing. We can tell him what all of these things are actually like and help him make the best choice."
Most men continue coming to the group's meetings until their treatment is completed. Some come back if their cancer recurs. Some come back because they're committed to helping other men.
Mr. Rosenfeld adds, "I'm always very happy and pleased when guys come back to a meeting after they've had their treatments and thank the group. I've seen a few guys in tears as they expressed their gratitude for the information and support they received from the group."