People and families dealing with cancer find that support comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be as simple as a neighbor mowing your lawn as a gesture of kindness, or as extensive as a friend volunteering to be your patient advocate and accompany you to doctors visits and treatment sessions.
Just Say Yes!
Dealing with cancer is a lot of work. Learning about treatments, handling the side effects of treatment, dealing with fear of the unknown – all while trying to hang on to some semblance of a normal life. If you have friends or family members offering to help you, do yourself a favor and just say yes!
Say yes to help with transportation, with babysitting, with household chores. Say yes to someone who offers to take your kids to the movies or your dog to the vet. Say yes to cooked meals or casseroles to put in the freezer. Just say yes for now. You can show your thanks later.
And if you’re one of the people offering help, remember that a concrete offer is often more helpful than a vague one. “Can I pick Jennifer up at school Wednesday and bring her home with us for dinner?” is more likely to get an appreciative nod of thanks than an open-ended “What can I do to help?”
Choosing a patient advocate
Choose one family member or friend to take on the role of patient advocate and back-up. This person can accompany you to important medical visits, take notes while you talk to your physicians and help you communicate your wishes, concerns, questions, and fears to the professionals on your treatment team.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure you have signed documents such as living wills or advance directives that make your wishes known – and that your advocate is aware of what you want.
Coordinating your support team
- Internet CarePage: If you have access to the internet, one way to facilitate communication among caregivers and volunteers on your support team is to create a CarePage, a virtual meeting place on the web where news and photos can be shared as often as desired. It allows news to get out quickly which means needs can be met sooner rather than later and reaction and support can be felt quickly as well.
- Internet Social Networks: Another web-based approach is to have someone create your own personal webpage on Facebook or MySpace. Young people are especially skilled in developing these pages, and it’s a great way to involve kids in your support team.
- Phone messages: A low-tech, but effective, method if you’re particularly busy or during hospitalizations or times when you don’t feel well, is to have someone record update messages on the phone, inviting callers to leave you a message.
- Wall Calendar: Another low-tech, but helpful. method is to keep a wall-calendar marked with who’s doing what. For instance, Monday: Martha carpools kids to lessons: Tues: church delivers dinner; Thurs: radiation treatment/ ride by ??? If you’re napping, visitors or friends can avoid duplication, or check for areas or days when you might need a helping hand.
- Lotsa Helping Hands, a project of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, provides an online way to coordinate your needs, your friends, and your calendar.
As a cancer survivor you don’t have to wait for an offer of help from friends. Learning how to ask for help is a skill that will serve you well and leave your friends grateful for the opportunity to be involved and supportive. Often people sincerely want to help but don’t know how.
When friends say “Please let me know if there is anything I can do” take them at the word of their offer. Ask them to help with something – no matter how small. Asking for help with the small stuff can lead to a good network of people ready to help with the bigger stuff, too.