What keeps a woman from joining a cancer support group? Perhaps it's emotional hesitation or a cultural reservation about sharing this intensely personal and terrifying experience.
Some women have more difficulty than others in sharing their grief and struggle. This is particularly true for Japanese women living in the US. The response of Japanese women to a diagnosis of breast cancer has been more in line with Japanese culture that promotes problem solving but leaves a woman on her own to deal with difficulties after diagnosis.
Aiko, SHARE's Japanese Support Group Facilitator, says the first question a Japanese woman usually asks is, "Do you know any good hospital or doctor?" After which, Aiko doesn't hear from the woman for a long time.
Aiko suggests that many Japanese women would consider sharing their personal stories a burden on others. Japanese women tend not to come to support groups until they feel that their condition has stabilized. When they finally come, they realize they could have benefited throughout their treatment. Aiko finds this heart-breaking.
The need for community support cannot be underestimated for immigrants and non-English speakers who tend to be isolated. Support services in the Japanese community, in comparison with Chinese and Korean communities where there is a strong family presence, are very limited.
Many Japanese women do not immigrate with their families. They come to pursue jobs and are fiercely independent. They are busy making a living and are not married. They undergo chemo all by themselves. Others have come to this country with their husbands, who travel for work. When cancer strikes, women who don't speak English have few places to turn. They are unlikely to share their struggles with family in Japan because they do not want to cause worry.
Aiko is excited about helping Japanese women forge ties with each other and hopes they will take advantage of this new SHARE support group for women in all stages of diagnosis. "I want them to be able to open up their hearts, sit and take time to support each other," she says.
The Breast Cancer Support Group in Japanese meets twice a month at the SHARE Main Office, 165 West 46th Street, Suite 712, New York, NY. For registration and information in Japanese, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone Aiko at 917-686-0671. In English, call the SHARE Breast Cancer Help Line (212) 382-2111 or toll-free (866) 891-2392