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How to Ask for Help When You Have Cancer

Cancer is a shocking diagnosis. Just the word can paralyze. But in the months that follow your diagnosis, as you face the turbulence of treatment and recovery, you can ask others for help.

It’s something most people struggle with. Relinquishing control of things you do every day, and may have done for years, can feel like defeat. And it can come with feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety. But asking for and accepting help is an important part of your journey. Letting others relieve even just a little bit of your day-to-day burden gives you more time to focus on getting well.

Maureen Rosario, RN, learned this when she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in October 2017. As an oncology nurse at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, Rosario was no stranger to cancer. But as a patient, she struggled with the same emotions that everyone feels. “I was in total shock. I couldn’t believe it.”

Now in full recovery after a bilateral mastectomy, bilateral breast reconstruction (DIEP procedure) and a complete axillary lymph node dissection, she has an even deeper appreciation for her family, friends, co-workers and the OhioHealth care team who made her recovery possible. “I’m a go-getter, so I had a hard time asking for help,” she says. “But the people who care about you want to care for you.”

Rosario offers this advice to people with cancer who are struggling with asking for help.

  • People want to help you, so let them! “People offered me more help than I needed to ask for,” says Rosario. “I was overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and generosity.”
  • Plan ahead. Use the time between your diagnosis and treatment to evaluate your routine schedule and responsibilities. List out the responsibilities you won’t be able to manage during your treatment and recovery, and approach your friends and family with a plan to establish who will do what and when.
  • Ask multiple people. While your closest friends and family members may want to be your heroes, it’s not always realistic. Don’t be afraid to reach beyond your inner circle. “I also asked my neighbor who, when I couldn’t drive, made sure my son got to school and was picked up after,” says Rosario.
  • Create a website to communicate with friends and family. Sites like CaringBridge.org or LotsaHelpingHands.com make it easy to organize help and keep your support group up-to-date on your progress. Friends and family can even use a planner to sign up for tasks and coordinate meals. “It was definitely a lot easier than making 25 phone calls,” says Rosario.
  • It’s ok to say no or make another suggestion. While the freezer works wonders, there is a limit to how many meals you can eat. Being honest is the way to go. “I had a friend who kept asking what she could do or if she could bring food, but I had food coming out of my ears! Eventually, I told her that coming over for a visit to keep me company while I was off work was the best thing she could do.”
  • Don’t play a one-for-one game. You may feel the need to repay your friends and family for their help, but you may not be able to and that’s okay. “I tried things like chocolate covered strawberries and flowers because I didn’t know how to repay them,” says Rosario. “I am indebted to them. But, I think in their minds, they’re just glad I’m ok and that’s enough for them.”

At OhioHealth, we call on our friends too, to better serve you. As an affiliate of MD Anderson Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center, OhioHealth’s certified cancer specialists routinely discuss cases with national leaders in cancer care. By combining their expertise with the best of what we provide locally, we give cancer patients new treatment options and new hope.

“I knew I was in good hands before I had surgery,” says Rosario. “But when my final pathology results showed small amounts of cancer in my lymph nodes, my surgeon, Dr. Halaharvi, talked with MD Anderson Cancer Center and presented my case to the breast pretreatment conference to decide my next steps. I really trusted their decisions because all of the experts had input.”

This collaboration and the unique experiences of our providers and associates who have stood in your shoes, like Rosario and her surgeon, Deepa Halaharvi, DO, a fellow breast cancer survivor, are what makes cancer care at OhioHealth so special. “It’s made me a better nurse,” says Rosario. “Now I can tell my patients, ‘I know what it’s like to be told you have cancer. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to be angry. But you’re going to get through it. You’re not dying, you’re living with cancer.’”

To learn more about OhioHealth CancerCall or schedule an appointment with one of our cancer physicians, visit OhioHealth.com or call (614) 566.4321 or 1 (800) 752.9119.

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