The Support Group

We were a stolid, perhaps even sullen, group. There were only a few half-hearted attempts at introductions. We sprinkled ourselves throughout the auditorium, giving each other space and making no attempt to "buddy up" or exchange pleasantries. I reflected that we were like birds on a wire - sharing many things in common, yet maintaining a comfortable distance from each other. As we waited for the program to begin we buried our faces in newspapers, or perused the literature that had been handed to us as we entered.

There were several wives in attendance, and unlike their mates the women engaged in a friendly and open manner. Women, it seems, are better than men at sharing their feelings.

After a few minutes, a cheerful nurse entered and began to explain the origins and theory of the support group movement. We watched a videotape presentation in which fellow prostate cancer patients spoke frankly about their experiences with the disease and about the ways in which the support group had helped them cope.

The reaction in the room was one of general acknowledgement - some nodded their heads knowingly, others made small murmuring sounds of assent - as the videotape played out. Oddly, though, no dialogue was sparked by the presentation. When the lights came on following the video presentation, we sat and waited for the nurse to lead us into the next part of the program.

After a bit, the sponsoring doctor entered and welcomed us all. The group perked up a bit at the doctor's arrival. Clearly most of those in the group were patients of this man and they seemed to place a great deal of confidence in him. He encouraged us to start a dialogue - to begin sharing our experiences with each other. The dialogue quickly degenerated into a closed loop of individual question and answer sessions. Each man who rose to speak had a question for the doctor, and each question pertained to that man's specific case.

Some curious male dynamic was at workThere was clearly a thirst for specific information, as man after man described some recent symptom and asked what it might mean, but I could not detect either the need or the desire to share personal thoughts or experiences with the group. It was evident that some curious male dynamic was at work; life had played a nasty trick on us and, while we wanted to know more about how that trick might eventually change our lives, we had no intention of discussing our feelings with each other.

Perhaps it was just the weather, or the awkwardness of the moment; or perhaps we were all still somewhat overwhelmed by what had happened to us.

I came away from the meeting wondering what I could take from future sessions of this group, but I also realized that I, too, had made no attempt to start a dialogue. Perhaps in a future session I will stand and start the discussion - do some sharing and caring without the mask of anonymity. Yet, I don't know if I'll be up to the task. Like every one of my brothers in that auditorium I'm still ambivalent about the trick life has played on me. The group is scheduled to meet again in mid-November. We'll see.

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