Monday, April 05, 2010

WLS Support Groups

Each month I attend three support group meetings. Each is different, but each is essential to my overall success with WLS. I am the leader of one of the groups, the other is lead by fellow patient in a neighboring town and the third is the official meeting held at my surgeon's office.

It makes me sad when I hear of people who don't have access to any support groups - or have do not feel their surgeon's support group meets their needs (usually coming from long-time WLS'ers who find surgeon's groups cater only to pre-ops and newbies).  I am truly blessed to have such an extensive community of bariatric patients who come together often in support of one another. If your support group is lacking in some way, I hope that my descriptions here might help you understand what is possible and give you the motivation to suggestion changes to your leader.  If you don't have a WLS support group but want one, start your own!

My Surgeon's WLS Support Group Meetings

We are offered a few different options for group meetings. Here is Hurley's Support Group website. One specifically for band patients and one in a different town - but the main monthly meeting is held the first Monday of the month at the bariatric clinic and all are invited to attend (even patients who had their surgery elsewhere). There are about 30-50 people at this main meeting.  These meetings are medically supervised in compliance with Center of Excellence guidelines (they must have a certain percentage of meetings conducted by a medical professional and others can be peer-lead or open discussion). A different speaker is brought in each month - doctor, psychologist, surgeon, nurse, patient - and discusses a topic of their choice. Sometimes there's time for questions and answers after their presentation. I was asked to be a speaker at a meeting last fall and we discussed the science of protein and then did a protein shake taste testing after. I'll also be speaking at the June meeting.

THE GOOD -- the best part of these meetings is the chit-chat time after the formal presentation. There are many long-timers who attend this meeting and use this opportunity to pay it forward to newbies and pre-ops.  New patients know we are there to answer questions and offer advice based on our own experiences. In my opinion, the real support of these meetings happens in the 30 minutes after the meeting is over.

THE BAD -- you can only hear so many topics before you've "heard it all."  So sometimes I feel like the presentation portion of these meetings is not helping me very much. Sometimes I get lucky and the topic is outstanding and I learn lots - but that's more rare the further out from surgery I get.

Peer-Based WLS Support Group Meetings - in neighboring town

See that link on the bottom navigation bar - Flint Area Bariatric Support (FABS) Group - that's the link to this group. The leader is a RNY patient who had surgery 4 or 5 years ago. We meet at a local health club in one of their classrooms on the 3rd Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m.  This gathering is very informal. Just a bunch of post-ops getting together to chat about whatever topic they need to talk about that day. We go around the room and each person has a chance to introduce themselves and/or share what's going on with them and ask for advice on something.  Or just share a Wow Moment or milestone. Because there are no medical folks at these meetings, people seem more free to ask questions about topics that might not be politically correct in the presence of professionals.  Yes, we talk about farts and poop right alongside conversations about vitamins and food and exercise.

THE GOOD -- people are free to talk about whatever they want. No holds barred.  If you have something you're struggling with you'll get 4 or 5 different ideas for how to handle it based on other people's experiences.

THE BAD -- because many of the same people attend both the surgeon's meeting and this informal meeting, we have all become friends (that's a good thing, of course) - but that also has the potential of seeming like a clicky group to newcomers, so it's something we need to be aware of. Also when you're in a room with 20 people you already know, the topics have usually all been covered and we all know what each other is struggling with or triumphing about - so that might discourage the vets from coming regularly.

Peer-Based WLS Support Group Meetings -- the one I lead in my hometown

First - let me direct your attention to the tab at the top of the page called "Support Group Topics." This is a new page I created as an index of topics from past meetings, upcoming topics and activities for groups to do outside the meeting.  I'll keep this page updated as I upload more handouts and information as well as in coming months as our group discusses more topics.

In an attempt to combine the style of my surgeon's support group meetings and the very informal Flint support group meetings - the group that I lead is a hybrid of the two. We meet at each other's homes - with members taking turns hosting the monthly meeting. We have grown to a regular meeting having 15-20 members attend. Each month I have a somewhat formal "lesson," usually with handouts and homework, and then after the discussion we have open chat and just hang out as a group of friends and talk about whatever we want to.

Because our meetings are held at dinnertime (6:30pm) and many of our members are coming straight from work, we eat together as a group. Lately we've been doing potluck style meals where the hostess prepares some main dish (usually soup or something similar) and we each bring a small dish to pass for sharing.  The meals are always WLS friendly and recipes are shared. We've also done "brown bag dinner" where we each bring our own meal and eat together at the meeting and for a while we were meeting at local restaurants for our meetings. Some have criticized us for this concept of eating at a weight loss surgery meeting. But, we have to eat right?  I would rather eat a healthy WLS-friendly potluck meal than stop at fast food on the way to the meeting for something far less healthy.  We all have to learn how to make good food choices no matter what the situation - so why not learn to make those good choices at a potluck filled with all good choices?

I also work hard to create a supportive environment outside our monthly gathering.  This year we are doing a series of 5k races together. The first one was a couple weeks ago and our last one is scheduled for November.  We've also done a couple Field Trips together to Goodwill and converted a couple summer meetings into pool parties at a member's house with a pool. If you live in the Bay City - Saginaw - Midland, Michigan area - send me an email for details about an upcoming meeting.

THE GOOD -- the friendships created in this group are so important to me and I've heard others say the same thing. By making this group about more than just the monthly meeting, I think we are truly a support system for each other all the time.

THE BAD -- we're growing. Ok, this is good. But the bad part is that we're out-growing our members' living rooms and we can't seem to find a free public meeting room that will accommodate us in the evenings. (Lots of daytime places, nothing in the evenings that I've been able to find.) The other downside of growing too large is that we lose the intimacy we've had for the past couple years. So it's something we'll need to work on and find a way to still connect on a person-to-person level to keep that small group feel while still supporting as many people as we can.

Start your own WLS Support Group

If you live in an area with no support groups - start your own!  It's easy. Find two or three other WLS patients who want to form a group, set a date and get together.  You can meet for coffee or at someone's house or at the local library or bookstore. Decide as a group which day of the month works best for regular meetings. Then just keep meeting.  Support each other throughout the month with phone calls or emails.  Invite other WLS patients to join the meetings.  You will need one person who is "in charge" - who will handle the logistics of making sure the monthly meetings are set up and everyone knows the details of the meeting time and place. But that same person doesn't need to be the "leader" of the group necessarily. If you want a topic or lesson each month, it can be the same person each month or it can rotate around to each member.  The design and mission is yours to decide. And as more people learn about your group, the more members you'll attract. And the more friends you'll make!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Pam, I'm waiting for insurance approval any day now and was cruising and saw you are from Saginaw. I lived in Saginaw during High School and my "other" family (best friends parents) still live there. Thanks for the info in your blog and thanks for the honesty and encouragement. I'm 50 and am sooo ready to get healthy and have my next 50 years be pain free and full of fun. Thanks again, Liz


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