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Throughout your cancer journey, you may need different types of help. You may need help with practical things such as getting to treatment, doing housework or yard work, cooking meals, taking care of children, walking the dog and so on. You may need someone to listen or offer support.
Many people find it hard to ask for and accept help of any kind. Although it may be hard, having help often makes it easier to cope with cancer. Remember that many people really want to help – people often don’t know what to do and helping out is one way to make them feel useful. Allowing others to help you is often a gift to both yourself and them.
You may find it useful to ask someone to be your “point person” who asks for and organizes help on your behalf. This person can create charts or lists and give people specific tasks on specific dates. They can update people on your condition and let them know good times to call or visit.
There may be times when you don’t have the support you need. If that’s the case, talk to someone on your healthcare team or at local volunteer agencies to learn more about support services. This may include talking to people with similar experiences or getting help from staff at the treatment centre.
Family, friends and sometimes co-workers can be very supportive and helpful. Some will know exactly what to do and say without being asked. Others might not be sure how to help. When someone says, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” tell them exactly what you need help with.
Many people want to help but they don’t know what you need or how to help. Take the first step by starting the conversation with family, friends and co-workers. Be clear about what you need. Don’t assume people will help without knowing what they can do. Make a list of things that need to be done and ask people to help.
Listening is sometimes the most important thing that others can do. You can take the lead in talking if possible. Some people may not know what to say or avoid talking about cancer because they’re worried that it may upset you. If you feel like talking about your cancer, bring it up and let them know it’s okay to talk. It’s also okay to let people know when you don’t want to talk about cancer.
Some examples of things you may ask people to help with include:
Some friends and family members may not offer you the support you expect as it may be too difficult for them for one reason or another. Some common reasons are:
If people aren’t giving you the help you need, you may want to talk to them, tell the person how you feel and explain what you need. Or you can just let it go.
It may be necessary to put your friends and family at ease and talk openly about your cancer. It may help to:
Your friendships will likely change with your cancer diagnosis but most changes will be positive. It’s important to focus on friends, family and co-workers who are able to support and listen to you.
It can be comforting to spend time with others who are going through or who have gone through some of the same things you are. You can often talk to these people about things you can’t discuss with anyone else. Someone who has had cancer can:
Organized support groups or programs that allow you to meet and talk to others with similar experiences may be offered through the hospital or treatment centre, your doctor’s office or other organizations. You can find out more about support programs by asking your healthcare team.
Support programs come in different formats to suit a person’s needs:
Don’t forget that everyone’s medical situation is different. Talk to your healthcare team about information that is shared in a support program and whether it applies to you.
You may find it helpful to talk to staff at the treatment centre. There are many different healthcare professionals that can provide counselling including psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Chaplains or spiritual care providers at treatment centres can also provide counselling.
Psychosocial oncology professionals are trained to listen and to help people deal with their cancer situation. In most cases, these professionals will see you or your family members at any time during your cancer experience, including after treatment. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure about how counselling might help or even exactly what it is you want help with. They are used to this and can help you:
Counselling usually involves:
In addition to providing support through counselling, social workers can help you with practical needs. A social worker can refer you to support groups, financial assistance and other resources. Ask to speak with the social worker at the hospital or treatment centre if you:
Patient or client advocates can help you if you have a problem or concern about your care that you don’t want to discuss with your doctor, nurse or social worker. They can act as a go-between with the healthcare team.
Discharge planners work with you and your family as you get ready to leave the hospital. They can help with tasks like making follow-up appointments and making sure you have the equipment or care you will need at home.
Patient or nurse navigators can help you find your way through the healthcare system. They can speak on your behalf, make sure your questions are answered and help you find the resources you need.
Volunteers often visit patients in the hospital and offer comfort and support. They may bring books, puzzles or other things to do. Some volunteers have also had cancer and may be willing to share their experiences with you.
Spiritual care workers, clergy members or chaplains can be very helpful for discussing spiritual issues or concerns. They can help you with any doubts and beliefs and help you find peace of mind. Don’t worry if you haven’t been going to religious services regularly or aren’t sure what you believe. Although they come from specific faiths, they are trained to provide support to people with traditions different from their own.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Community Services Locator helps cancer patients and their families find the services and programs they need in their community.