Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Finding or Establishing Support Groups

It can feel lonely when you're diagnosed with a rare disease, such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) or Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS). After all, these are rare diseases and so there isn't near the support or media coverage available as there is for well known, more common illnesses. Finding support can be increasingly difficult depending on where you live as well. It's more likely to find support if one lives near a large research hospital such as Michigan Medicine University of Michigan, Cleveland Hospital or Mayo Clinic. Finding support is easier now than it was 20+ years ago when I was diagnosed with FAP and SBS though with technology and social media.

I remember how important my local UOAA ostomy support group was for me after my first surgery that removed my colon and left me with an ileostomy for 6 years before having a straight pull thru. There wasn't usually anyone my age at the meetings but I was able to meet others outside of my family who also had ostomies. Their reasons for their ostomies were not the same as my reason or diagnosis but it was helpful to know I wasn't alone. My pediatric GI also told me about the Youth Rally for kids and teens with ostomies or other diversions for their bladder and bowel and I attended as a camper for four years until I graduated high school and I even went back as a counselor for two years. Between the support of my family, the ostomy support group, my friends and counselors at Youth Rally, and a therapist I was able to learn how to adjust and cope to life with rare disease and an ostomy. My local UOAA support groups even helped sponsor my trips to the Youth Rally and when I returned I was allowed to share my experience and pictures with the support group.

One can find online support for the rare diseases of FAP and SBS by doing a simple search on the web or on Facebook. There are several groups for both diseases including for colon cancer, ostomies, and reversals. A well established online group is Colontown with various neighborhoods to help meet the vast array of needs and conditions that are associated with colon cancer. However, what if you want a face to face group and there isn't one in your area?

Kevin helped establish a Peer Discussion Group for Hereditary Colorectal Cancer in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was kind enough to share his tips for establishing your own group. Kevin recommends:
  • Locating and talking to a genetic counselor about your interest in establishing a group
  • Identify local medical facilities or hospitals that treat Hereditary Colorectal Syndromes such as FAP and Lynch Syndrome. The above HCCF Provider Directory may be of assistance with this as well
  • Talk with a local genetic counselor about identifying doctors who treat Hereditary Colorectal Syndromes to discuss with your interest of establishing a group
  • Identify a meeting venue such as:
  • Speak with the program director at the potential meeting venue about establishing a group at their facility
  • Identify a possible facilitator for the group. Some venues may have requirements for the facilitator such as someone with a social work degree or special training
  • Create a website or social media group for your group. An online Facebook group should be monitored regularly for appropriate contact and is suggested to be a closed group for privacy
  • Once a venue has been secured, communicate the group's details to Hereditary Colorectal doctors, genetic counselors, local papers and radio stations, social media sites, etc
  • Quarterly presentations of topics of interest are recommended such as topic experts including:
    • Genetic Counselors
    • Hereditary Colorectal Doctors
    • Dietitians
Keep in mind that it may also be helpful to get in touch with others who have established groups for any medical condition for guidance in the process, not only those who have established the same type of group you are wanting to establish. Having a partner to help in the creation of a group can be helpful as it is a lot for one person to take on in establishing and maintaining a group. Rural areas are less likely to have genetic counselors but perhaps there is one within reasonable distance or other individuals in the surrounding areas that may be interested in helping to establish a group.

Kevin has generously offered his guidance in establishing your own support group if you would like to contact him via email or phone: 734-476-7425

If you establish your own support group, share it with Life's a Polyp to help promote your new support group!


  1. This is a very informative post! I appreciate you gathering all of this together. I want to create something like this for my website but with neurological diseases. It's so true that having other people to speak with who are going through the same thing really helps your mental health.

    1. That's a great idea! I hope this post helps you achieve what you're aiming for. Kevin was very kind to share his wealth of information that he gained from all his hard work in creating a support group.