In addition to the emotional stress it can bring, a diagnosis of cancer brings a variety of new tasks for the patient and closest caregivers. There are doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments – sometimes daily. And, the patient is likely to need help with other things that they once managed on their own, such as housekeeping and meal preparation. It’s very easy for the person with cancer and their closest family members to become overwhelmed with the duties ahead.
There are dozens of ways that other family members and friends can help out. However, all too often, the needs of the patient and closest caregivers don’t quite connect with the assistance that others are willing and able to provide. Hopefully, the following pointers will help those who need the help and those who have assistance to offer.
Patients and Caregivers
There are many reasons why we fail to ask for help when we need it. Perhaps we’re just so used to doing things ourselves that we don’t think to ask, or perhaps we crave privacy as we sort through our emotions and don’t want lots of people around us. But, for most people, the reason we don’t ask for help is that we simply “don’t want to put people out”. But, now is the time to accept the assistance that others are willing to give. If you’re worried that you’re asking too much, just ask yourself if you would be willing to offer the same assistance if the situation were reversed. If the answer is yes, you’re not asking too much.
The patient and closest family members should sit down and make a list of items that others could help with. This helps you to be ready when someone asks to help and also helps you to determine any items that the person with cancer deems too private – so you can designate those items only to the closest family members. For example, your cancer patient may be quite happy to have others sit with them so that family members can get a break – but they may not be comfortable accepting assistance from others at meal times if they require help with the basics of eating. Some tasks that others can easily help with include:
- Meal preparation
- Trips to the pharmacy
- Dog walking
- Running other errands
- Garden Maintenance
If you’re a primary caregiver for someone with cancer, be ready to say “yes” when others offer to help. If their offers are not specific, you can keep in mind their talents and time availability when making requests. Is a church member a seamstress? Have her mend clothes and take in those that have become too big.
Remember that people want to help. And, often, they just don’t know what you need. It can be difficult for many of us to accept help, but you might be amazed at how good it makes you feel when you allow people to sincerely reach out.
Linda felt so guilty about letting a girlfriend bring over dinner when she was recovering from childbirth. But, her husband had just returned to work and she was taking care of a newborn and a toddler and not feeling very well. So, with reluctance, she accepted her friend’s offer. Her friend brought over a dish that Linda had eaten just once in her life – a few years before in her friend’s home. Linda was so touched that her friend had remembered how much she loved her shepherd’s pie that her embarrassment for needing help quickly turned to great affection for their many years of friendship. You may find that letting people help you turns your constant thoughts of cancer and the future it might hold to more positive thoughts.
That Providing Assistance
It’s natural to want to offer assistance when our loved ones are going through tough times. All too often, however, when we ask “Do you need anything?” we fail to receive any specific requests for help. Don’t let this stop you! There are many ways to get involved even if you don’t receive any direction from the person with cancer or their immediate caregivers. Here are some ideas:
Think about the things that we all have to take care of every day. Offer to pick up groceries for the family at the same time you get your own. The family may be more likely to take you up on your offer if they know you’ve headed to the store anyway. When you’re paying the patient a visit and you see something that needs to be done – ask if you can do it.
Consider the patient’s personality. Is the cancer patient an avid reader? Then head to your local used book store and stock up. They won’t care that the books aren’t new; they’ll be thrilled with a variety of books and magazines to kill time during treatments and rest periods.
Use your talents. A friend of mine once spent an entire weekend preparing her sister’s favorite meals for her freezer. Her sister was going through chemotherapy and having trouble managing meal preparation. Over the course of a weekend, she put 20 meals in her freezer – all things her sister really loved. Even though her sister’s appetite had been off, she quickly became more eager to eat once she knew her favorites were waiting for her.
Be persistent when you want to help. You may find that it takes your friend or relative a little time to get used to the idea of accepting help. But, soon, you may be able to make a world of difference!