A year ago I started the Moving Forward from Cancer Facebook group. Primarily as a place to bring together the many people I spoke to about cancer experiences and life after it, and how they felt successful or not in moving forward from it. I wanted them to see how common their experiences were to each others’, to feel less isolated and to support the group in finding new ways to make this an easier part of their journey.
Here’s what I’ve learned about running that group
1. You have to nurture it
You can’t set up a support group (and especially an FB one) and expect it to run itself. You need to nurture it like you’re both administrator and chair of a large meeting – setting the agenda and values of the group, helping members navigate their thoughts and ideas in the framework of those values and providing grounded reason and leadership where required.
You also need to be present. The weekly live videos I planned to carry out have gone ahead possibly 90% of the year (being a free group that’s pretty darn good) and the daily, evening ‘three good things’ that we’ve run for over nine months has proven a wonderful way for members to support each other too.
In nurturing the group with a solid foundation, you can also let it run itself to some extent. Members support each other on good, great or (perhaps most valuable) awful days and I don’t need to be there to know someone will catch another person who might be struggling. I’m so proud of the members for the way they ask good questions and provide insight into life after cancer that will resonate with many people also.
2. You can try things out in a safe space
I decided it would be useful to go live within the group as an informal way to chat to the members. So, I tested it by going live in random places (on a walk, in my garden, in the car park) for three weeks before I opened it up to members.
I figured it would be a good lesson in using FB live as well as provide valuable content for people when they arrived – and it worked, people had a back catalogue they could watch before even getting into other posts. Those early videos are clunky but I’m so glad I did them
3. You’re allowed to have a voice
It’s important to listen and provide impartial guidance and support, but I’ve also learnt it’s OK for me to have an opinion. As a coach I’ve always wanted to ensure that people know they’re in safe hands and won’t be judged (and especially in life after cancer). However you can’t and don’t wipe yourself clean and become devoid of personality in coaching – that would make you inauthentic and less valuable to the people who like you for you. Indeed, the more opinion I have and am confident in, the more my community (and clients) feel safe that they know where I come from in my support for them. I’ve found running the group has enabled me to be stronger in speaking up, asking difficult questions and knowing it’s a great place to check out tricky thoughts and opinions.
4. I struggle to reconcile ‘support group’ with ‘business’
The FB group I run is just a part of the service I offer. I choose to leave it free because, well, see all other points here. Knowing the value of what we do as service providers is important and for me it means I can run the group with integrity and honesty about being a service provider, a small business owner, a coach, cancer survivor and whatever else we bring to our work and lives.
There’s no denying I’m a small business owner, but I struggle to reconcile appearing to, or trying to, ‘profit’ from people’s difficulties (and particularly cancer).
However, I know coaching after cancer (and indeed after trauma or long term illness) is a gap that hasn’t widely been filled, there’s a genuine need to move forward from such stressful and impactful life events and that coaching after cancer is a proving to be a highly valuable service.
I also feel this service isn’t available through charities nor organisations, of which I’m neither. As an individual, I have more more freedom to be agile in what I can create and offer. That’s not a universal advantage of course but in working with those larger organisations I can bridge a gap between patient and other services, whilst also listen to patient need and support them to articulate and gain focus in their own moving forward experience.
Building a community around your work, whatever you do, is important – it’s OK to do that as a volunteer, a business, as an independent person or for another organisation. Just be transparent and people won’t mind. In fact, I think they’ll appreciate it all the more.
5. Your members will help you
If you want to start, or presently run, a Facebook group (it doesn’t have to be specific to health, illness or even cancer) you may find this too – your members can help you. I’ve asked them questions when I have an idea, a thought for a series of topics, even a new course. Heck, I crowd-sourced editing this post too (thanks guys!). It takes a lot (of time, thought and effort) to manage a good group and it’s OK to ask for support the other way round too.
I’ve heard of people closing their FB groups because of the amount of work they take to manage, but it works both ways. If you nurture it in the way both you and members need, the emerging sense community can equally support and guide your own voice and the decisions you make.
For example, one Thursday morning a few months ago I had no specific topic for our weekly live chat so I thought back to the themes that had been coming up in my work. Commonly, it was the sense that many of us want to lead our lives with more compassion, without being so hard on ourselves and ultimately gentler, whilst also achieving all the things we want. I covered this in the live video and it became the most popular video to date. As a result, I decided this would be the topic of the course I had wanted to create. With that course now completed and the first cohort having made quite significant changes I’m running it again in October 2017. And what also emerged is that this wasn’t just for cancer patients – it’s for anyone who simply wants a more gentle life for themselves and those around them.
6. It’s OK to have time out
You can’t be in the group all of the time. Not just because it’s kind of work (because it doesn’t always feel like it) but mostly because you do need off- and down-time time too.
Work out how many hours you’re spending in yours, and convert that into working hours in your diary – it will very likely be more than you imagine. So, plan ahead and allocate that time in your diary going forward and aim to be as efficient as possible with how you manage it. Can you download images you need all in one go instead of bit by bit? Can you plan ahead on topics you’re going to cover or questions you’re going to answer and schedule the posts? Can you have very clear times you respond on the group and other times when you’re not in it? All of this will help manage your own time and expectation of what you’re able to complete.
Your members know who you are and know you need holidays, have other work and are also an individual (as opposed to a large organisation with lots of staff!). Be honest, open and use the group as your peers as well as your community. If difficult things are emerging in it, get support – either through supervision or a form of de-briefing or rest that you need. What you do might depend on your own training and your reason for starting your own group, but get the time out and support you need when you recognise you need it.
So that’s what I’ve learned about running a cancer related facebook group. You know what? It didn’t even cover what I’ve learnt about cancer itself, so hold on for the second part, coming soon.
If you’re interested in joining our warm and welcoming group, take a look at what’s available to you here
Alternatively, if you’re in or run a virtual community yourself what do you love about it?
Let me know.