Asking for Help

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 16, 2018

The Wisdom and Bravery of "Yes"

Few of us enjoy asking for help, but we all need to learn this skill while going through cancer treatment and recovery. Women especially may be so accustomed to taking care of everyone else and putting their own needs last that they find it almost impossible to shift their habits.

A cancer diagnosis is a game-changer that challenges our assumptions about self-reliance. Askingfor help is not a failure of character or proof that we are wimpy, dependent or incapable. In fact, asking for help means that we are wise and brave enough to acknowledge our limits, consider our resources and circle those loving wagons.

To shake the guilt that sometimes comes with asking for and accepting help, remember:  Your family and friends want to be helpful. You are being kind to them when you accept their offers of assistance. Remind yourself, too, that you won’t need help forever. You may not give back equally to a particular person, but you will pay the kindness forward in helping others in the future.

Once you are comfortable with these truths, the following strategies can help make getting the help you need easier.

  1. Practice saying, “Yes. Thank you.”
  2. Be specific about your needs. If someone leads with a vague offer of availability, respond with two or three suggestions of what they might do.
  3. Keep a list of errands in a central location. When someone asks what she can do, you will be able to remember what you most need.
  4. Keep another list of tasks that could be given to others. Think broadly about this list and include everything that occurs to you:raking leaves, planting bulbs in the fall, changing the sheets on your bed and washing the used ones, vacuuming the downstairs of your house or buying a stack of birthday cards to keep on hand.
  5. Consider a third list of pleasant favors. Ask your friend to come for coffee and bring your favorite muffin, go with you to an afternoon movie or pay a short visit the day after chemotherapy.
  6. Try to be realistic and thoughtful about your requests. Ask the parent of your child’s friend for some child-care coverage and ask your neighbor to pick up some milk and eggs at the market.
  7. One reason many of us hesitate to ask a favor is the possibility that someone will say no. A few free online websites, such as BIDMC’s partner Lotsa Helping Hands, allow you to list what you need and make it easier for others to volunteer for errands and tasks. These websites remove some of the awkwardness in asking for help and are password-protected so you can maintain your privacy.
  8. Going forward, having learned to ask for and accept help will turn out to be a valuable skill in life. You will also have learned how to best offer assistance to friends in need.

Join the conversation by leaving your comment at our BIDMC Cancer Community.