With a Little Help From My Friends

Posted on: March 17th, 2016 by

When I was going through cancer diagnosis and treatment, my friends asked me whether I needed help. Things like grocery shopping or helping me run errands.

My answer was always, “No, I’m okay.”

Of course I really wasn’t okay — far from it.

My friends and I spoke and got together when I felt up to it. But several variables factored in my refusing their help:

I didn’t want to trouble my friends.

I hated depending on others. Still do.

I wanted to appear strong and tough.

Plus I was brought up with a stoic pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality. My extended and nuclear families don’t believe in seeking help for problems. So, not surprisingly, my philosophy turned out the same.

So, here I was, suddenly transplanted in Cancerland, refusing my friends’ offers of help. Here I was, feeding the roots of stubborn independence and isolation. During the time of my life I needed the most help, I would not relent.

I was standing in my own way — all because of damned pride.

I became my own albatross.

Five years later, my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction found me swallowing my pride and seeking help. This time, when friends asked me if they could help, I eagerly accepted. Friends came through for me — from grocery shopping to running errands to bringing me food.

I didn’t even realize that so many people loved me.

And I learned a major life lesson: that good friends want to help an ailing friend. It makes them feel useful and helpful to know they are doing something worthwhile, often in scary medical situations that are out of their control.

So if you are finding yourself on the patient end of things, here are just some things you can do to get the help you need. I’m not suggesting that the following choices are always the right choices for your particular situation.

But overall, here are my take-aways (not listed in any order of importance):

1. You don’t have to say you’re okay when you are not. It’s acceptable to react to medical news any way you see fit.

2. Reach out and ask the right friends for help, even if it’s a small favor like bringing food over.

3. Let friends know the best times to call you, or whether you don’t have energy for callbacks.

4. Phone conversations are a great source of support. Don’t feel bad if you are too tired to talk; it’s okay to allow others just sit and read at your bedside.

5. If you have kids and/or pets, feel free to ask your friends to watch them at times.

6. Practice mindfulness.

My friend Virginia who supported me through my DIEP

My friend Virginia who supported me through my DIEP

When have you sought or not sought out help from your friends? I want to hear from you.

Are there any points that resonate with you?

Are there any points that you would add?

6 Responses to With a Little Help From My Friends

  1. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Beth, this is a great post! I am guilty of never wanting to get help from anyone. I pretty much went through my cancer experience with very few people. I too don’t like to feel needy or weak or dependent. I never want to be a burden to anyone. But there are times when I really need the help and still refuse to ask for it, or accept it.

    Your list is good. #s 3 & 5 resonate with me (I had someone watch my pets during my chemo treatments). I would just add something about caregivers. If I am ever in a cancer situation again, and let’s hope that’s not the case, I would ask friends to spend more time with me. I would also ask them to handle a responsibility which is usually handled by my caregiver so he can rest. My partner was my caregiver during treatments and I found that it was stressful for me at times to see him feel tired because he had no one to turn to.

    Thank you for the reminder that it’s OK to receive help from others. I am glad you have people who can help. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Rebecca! I think the addition of asking friends to handle a caregiver’s responsibility is a great idea. This is a reminder that caregivers have it rough and need help, too. So many times, they are lost in the equation.

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

  2. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Asking for help is hard. Even when we know we need to. I really like #1 on your list. Trying to fake it is just so exhausting. Sometimes we need to simply allow others to help out, or take care of us – or take care of things. Allowing them to help out not only helps us, it helps them. Thanks for the post.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Nancy. I’ve tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but it was difficult. Faking it just is too difficult. And it doesn’t help anyone.

  3. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Early on, I got tired of answering the question, “How are you?” because if I said how I really was, I could see the questioner start to shut down. I found that exhausting, so I began to be selective about how I answered, depending on who asked. I’m still not sure what’s more exhausting, being honest or brushing off the question when I know the person doesn’t really want to hear the truth. I will say, though, that all this helped me figure out who my real friends were. My real friends want the truth, and get it. Great post. xoxo, Kathi

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Kathi,

      Yes, I have seen that phenomenon first-hand. The questioner really wants us to say we are just peachy. Cancer is a truth-teller: we certainly find out who our true friends are! Thank you for your comment.

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