Learning to ask for help through cancer

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

JUNE 25, 2019

Neighbor Delivering GroceriesIt is hard to ask for help. We are raised to be self-sufficient and take pride in our ability to manage ourselves and our own needs. Cancer treatment changes our lives in many ways, but one is that we need to learn to ask others for assistance. Remember that most people want to be useful, and are actually pleased to be asked and to know what they can do to help you through the months of treatment and recovery.

A cancer diagnosis is a game-changer that challenges our assumptions about how we manage our lives. Asking for help is not a weakness or failure or character or grit or some kind of proof that we are inept and wimpy. Instead, learning to ask for help means that we are wise enough and brave enough to acknowledge our limits.

Everyone's needs are different. You may need rides to and from chemotherapy treatments or assistance with childcare or some meals or walking your dog. Perhaps looking at your neglected garden is distressing, and a friend's weeding for an hour would soothe your concerns. Here are the first two things to remember:

  1. Your family and friends want to be helpful; you are being kind to them when you accept their offers of assistance.
  2. This situation of needing help is temporary. You may not be able to exactly return to favor to the same person, but you will pay it forward in life by being present and helpful to others during their own times of trouble.

Here is the next set of suggestions:

  1. Practice saying "Yes, thank you."
  2. Be specific and be prepared. If someone offers a vague wish to help, be ready with a couple of suggestions.
  3. Keep a list of errands in a central location. It is then easy to check and say that you need your dry cleaning picked up or a package mailed.
  4. Keep another list of jobs that could be given to others. Think broadly about this list and include every little thing that occurs to you: raking leaves, picking up library books, changing the sheets on your bed, bringing you chocolates.
  5. Keep a third list of experiences or times together. Ask a friend to come for tea or to bring lunch for you both. Remind your friend that a brief visit will be most welcome
  6. Be realistic in your "asks." Ask your child's friend's mother for childcare help, not your single friend who lives twenty miles away. 
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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