If you’re caring for someone with breast cancer, you know just how challenging it can be to balance their treatments and doctor’s appointments with your regular day-to-day work, tasks, and errands. Rather than trying to be the superhero who handles everything, it might be time to ask for some help.
Asking for help is not easy for everyone, especially when you aren’t the one with a cancer diagnosis. But there is no shame in acknowledging that you need help from other people, many of whom will be happy that there is something they can do to help you.
Here is some advice on how to ask for help when you need it most.
Start at Home
If you’re living with a spouse or partner, they are likely your primary source of help and support. After you become a caregiver for someone, like your mother, or your sister, or friend, however, the roles and responsibilities you’ve each assumed — earning income, child care, household chores, preparing meals, or other daily tasks — may need some adjustment.
Perhaps your partner is exceptionally supportive and you’ve already figured out how to adjust responsibilities in a way that works for both of you. But every relationship is unique, and if you’re feeling like there is too much on your plate, you might need to work on communicating with your partner to make sure they understand your needs and limitations.
At the same time, your partner may need some help, as well. Many of your normal tasks may have fallen on them as you are busy caring for someone else. Figure out what adjustments are needed in the household, and if it’s too much for the two of you, perhaps you can ask family and friends for help together.
If you have older children living at home or nearby, consider asking them to take on some additional responsibilities around the house.
Prioritize and Delegate
Help from others may be limited, so take some time to think carefully about what you can handle on your own and what you most need help with.
It’s also smart to think about who in your support network will be best suited to help with particular tasks. If you have a friend who loves to cook, ask that person for help with preparing meals for your family while you’re gone. If you have a relative with a flexible work schedule, perhaps that is the person who might be able to pick your kids up from school.
Delegating tasks to different people is also important so that you don’t rely too much on one person and so you don’t fail to include others who may want to help, as well.
You could even make a list of people who have offered to help and think carefully about the best ways they can contribute.
However, don’t be afraid to set boundaries — it’s OK to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to well-meaning people you aren’t comfortable with for whatever reason.
When people offer help, accept it
You may find that friends and family often ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Get comfortable with saying “yes” to this question, and be prepared with specific suggestions, such as help with childcare, running errands, or preparing meals. Anticipate what you might need, and if someone offers to help, take them up on it.
Do you have friends who ask How can I help? Because often people do. Tell the next person who asks you that, “Yes! You can help! Here’s what I need.”
Give up some control
A difficult part of relying on others for help may be accepting that they do things a bit differently than you would. Maybe it’s not exactly the way you would clean your house, prepare a meal, or do the laundry. But with a little work, you can learn to give up some control and focus on the fact that these tasks are getting done, and that you have supportive people in your life who care enough about you to help out when you are needed by your loved one.
At the same time, it’s also important to accept that you can’t control how people may respond to a request for help. Some people may be too busy to help. Others may agree to help and fail to keep their word. This may feel disappointing, but don’t let it discourage you from reaching out to others.
Work through feelings of guilt or shame
Asking for help can be difficult and can make you feel like you’re burdening your loved ones. But as a co-survivor, you understand how important help from others is – you are doing it yourself! Try to remember how you feel about helping your loved one with breast cancer. They likely feel the same way. Accept that it’s OK to need help and to reach out and ask for it. Try to have faith in your friends, family, and community.
Needing help is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. In fact, knowing when you need help is a sign of strength and self-awareness.