Women and prostate cancer support groups: The gender connect?

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There are more than 100 prostate cancer support groups (PCSGs) in Canada, most of which meet on a monthly basis—yet little attention has been paid to the role of women at these groups. As part of an ongoing ethnographic study of PCSGs, we examined women's motivations for attending the groups, their ways of functioning in PCSGs and the benefits they accrued. Participant observations conducted at 13 British Columbian-based PCSGs and individual interview data from 20 women who regularly attended PCSG meetings were analyzed. Although the groups did not overtly limit women's attendance, the women's decisions to attend and their participation at group meetings were subject to much self-reflection, uncertainty and tension. Motivations to access a PCSG included a desire to support their partners, develop understandings about the illness and disease, and to manage their own experience of prostate cancer. Our analyses revealed that women assume three roles in PCSGs: social facilitator, background supporter and cancer co-survivor. The women reported many interrelated benefits as a result of attending, including information, hope and reassurance, and connecting with other women in similar circumstances. The results from this study reveal how traditional feminine ideals, such as nurturing and caring for the men in their lives, facilitating social connections and the desire to share emotional experiences guided the behaviors. Based on the study findings, we suggest that efforts to support women's involvement in PCSGs are critical to enhancing the effectiveness of the groups for both men and women.

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Journal Article

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