How do support groups help those on the cancer journey?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are told they have cancer. Yet when the diagnosis hits close to home, it can leave the patient and their loved ones feeling isolated and alone.

Support for patients and families dealing with cancer comes in many forms at Hinsdale's Wellness House. Along with classes about topics relevant to navigating the journey through cancer, Wellness House offers dozens of ways for patients, families and caregivers to gain strength and encouragement through talking to others.

"Increased social support has been linked with a number of positive outcomes," said Jill Otto, support and family programs manager at Wellness House. A licensed clinical social worker with degrees in psychology and social work, Otto's 30-year career has been focused around helping people survive and recover from some of life's most difficult situations.

When cancer touched her life, she decided to share her decades of experience with others whose lives had been changed by their own or a loved one's cancer diagnosis.

The support groups Otto oversees are a safe place for people to share their struggles, vent their frustrations, voice their fears and share information and resources.

"The purpose of the support group is to share and to receive support," Otto said.

"There's also empowerment in being a resource to others," she added, and knowing that something you shared helped someone else.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most support groups were held at the house at 131 N. County Line Road. But as people continue to shelter against the virus, most groups are held online, Otto said.

The 40 support and networking groups offered at Wellness House include groups for people with specific types of cancer, as well as groups for families and caregivers. Spanish speakers, LGBTQ community members, newly diagnosed patients and women of color also have access to groups designed to meet their unique needs. The caregiver support group offers a place to vent frustrations, acknowledge needs and maybe even learn how to better communicate with the person they are caring for.

Otto said she sees firsthand the good that can come from talking and listening to others. She recalls one woman in particular who was at a low point in her cancer journey. Feeling fearful, hopeless and alone, she was apprehensive about turning to a support group for help.

"She wasn't sure about coming to group," Otto said, but the woman soon found the group to be a safe place to ask questions and to share her worries. It wasn't long before she was feeling stronger, more optimistic and less alone.

"She talks about how helpful the group has been for her," Otto said. "She said the group has served as an anchor in the storm."

Otto said it's common - and normal - for a person to feel a bit apprehensive about attending a support group. They might feel vulnerable or uneasy about asking for help, or they might wonder whether a group or individual setting is best.

"Find a way to join that works for you," Otto said.

For more information or to get started, call (630) 323-5150 or visit

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean