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Staying Connected with Virtual Support Groups

Woman Virtual Workshop

The role of oncology social workers is to provide direct support and connection for cancer patients, families, and caregivers. In a world recently rattled by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our normal routines and opportunities for connection have been disrupted and replaced by social distancing measures to prevent the spread of disease.

For those facing a cancer diagnosis, managing uncertainty and difficult feelings related to cancer may be compounded by the increased fear and isolation resulting from the threat of coronavirus. Oncology social workers have had to quickly adapt to new realities of work settings and the cancer patient experience, to continue to provide critically needed support and walk alongside our patients in meaningful ways.

One of the ways we have aimed to thoughtfully adapt has been through the creation of new virtual support groups. Using video conference technology, our social workers have been gathering with patients and families to create safe and welcoming spaces to connect while physically apart.

Online support groups now available

Abramson Cancer Center social workers are proud to offer several online support groups for patients and caregivers, where you can join by video conference or phone. These groups were created to encourage continued connection with our patients and help us to help you, even from afar.

“What’s on Your Mind?” provides an opportunity for patients and your support people to connect with oncology social workers in a safe, supportive space to share what’s on your mind. Topics may include your cancer journey, anxiety about coronavirus, how you’ve been coping, family life, personal growth and challenges. This group meets every Wednesday from noon to 1 pm. Join us via video conference using the Blue Jeans app (no passcode is needed), or by phone by dialing 408-419-1715. and entering the meeting ID number 474 244 774, followed by the # sign. No registration is needed. For more information, contact Sandy Blackburn at or 215-614-1863.

To foster a community and space to discuss the feelings associated with a new cancer diagnosis, we created the Support Group for Newly-Diagnosed Patients. This virtual group offers patients who are new to cancer treatment a safe, supportive environment to connect and share the changes and adjustments they are experiencing related to diagnosis and treatment. Contact Ashley Adams at or 215-360-0576 to register.

Our group What’s the Meaning of This? is based on our training in Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy and is offered for patients diagnosed with advanced cancer (metastatic cancer, recurrent or disease progression). The need to find meaning is a defining human characteristic that can help with coping. The group provides a supportive setting where oncology social workers facilitate an open discussion focused on meaning. To register, email Megan Melick at or call 215-360-0570.

The Writing a Life Workshop is an established group that was able to transition from in-person to online to maintain valuable connections for our patients. The group provides an expressive writing experience for participants and is facilitated by a University of Pennsylvania professor of English. To register, email Courtney Bresler-Nowak at or call 215-605-5304.

We invite all caregivers, family members and support people of someone with cancer to a group dedicated to you, the Caregiver Support Group. Oncology social workers will listen to what’s on your mind, facilitate discussion, and provide support and resources. This group meets online the first Monday of the month at 1 pm. No registration is needed. Join us via the Blue Jeans video conference app (no passcode needed) or by telephone by dialing 408-419-1715 and entering the meeting ID number 450 778 055, followed by the # sign. Contact Sandy Blackburn at or 215-360-0580. for more information.

The Neuroendocrine Tumor Group is open to neuroendocrine tumor patients and their caregivers. This group combines educational presentations from the Neuroendocrine Multidisciplinary Team with time for participants to network and share your experiences. Leaders of the group include an oncology social worker, registered dietitian and nurse navigator, who are available to provide support from their areas of expertise. For more information or to register, please contact Diann Boyd at or call 215-614-1863.

The Breakthrough Exercise Challenge for Breast Cancer Survivors meets virtually each Tuesday morning and helps to inspire breast cancer survivors to move. The group will culminate with a virtual exercise event, the Penn Medicine-sponsored Breakthrough Challenge, on September 13. For more information and to register, contact Doris Piccinin at or 215-360-0581.

Life After a Bone Marrow Transplant is a virtual group offering a safe and supportive space for patients who have experienced a bone marrow transplant to discuss insights and challenges about life after transplant. Contact Tiffany Raroha at or 215-360-0585. for more information or to register.

Ideas or suggestions?

We hope you consider joining us for one or more of our online groups. We would also like to understand what you’d like to see in our online support groups. For example, are you looking for a group dedicated to a particular type of cancer or a certain activity? While we can't promise a particular outcome from these ideas, we welcome and value your input, as we want to develop programs centered around your needs.

Your thoughts and suggestions are important to us as we all adapt to this age of virtual socialization. We're so grateful for the opportunity to use video conferencing to stay connected with you. We may be physically apart, but hope knits us together—the hope of sharing together, the hope of encouragement and the hope of better days ahead.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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