People want to help, so go ahead and ask for help. Cancer is not a one-person job.
Susan F was unwillingly thrust into the world of metastatic breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2012. She uses her powers of persuasion, knowledge and writing for good in hopes of helping others similarly affected. She is a patient advocate, volunteering with METAvivor (metavivor.org), a volunteer organization raising funds for research in metastatic breast cancer.
I am a take-care-of-it, planning kind of gal. For those of you who know me, that fact comes out in, oh, about five seconds after introduction. Got a group needing to be seated at a restaurant? I will work with the host to find the best table. Have a medical issue? I'll do research and send you the information. I like to have my life organized and I love to reach out to others. My helping ways may be a bit annoying at times, but I mean well. And I like doing it.
That's why this cancer thing has me thrown for a loop. Never mind the fact that I really have no idea how this will work out (will I go into remission for years or will I suffer bout after bout of recurrence?), but now I have no choice but to ask others for help and making plans is an iffy proposition, at best.
Trying to plan a time to fly back to Wisconsin to visit family? I have no idea when to do that. An unexpected visit to the ER? Who will take care of my dogs? Chemo extended? Who can I ask to help me during the extra chemo treatment? Of course I need help. Cancer is not a one-person job. But I was raised not to ask for help and I sure have a hard time receiving help. And once I ask for help, I want to put a plan in place and I am hoping like heck to not have to ask for help again. I just do not want to be a burden.
My first time through chemo, my treatments were unexpectedly extended, meaning I had no choice but to ask for more help, after my friends and family had helped so much already. I had forced myself to ask for help for the first round. I had a plan. I knew my need would end on this date and then I could go back to being independent. But suddenly I was being told that the incapacitating treatments would go on for an undetermined amount of time. Not only would I have to ask for more help, but I did not know when that need for help would end. It was torture. How could I ask for so much and how could I plan when I had no clue about the end point? I did not know how to absorb the news. Luckily, I told all of this to my friend Deborah. Her frank response helped me through.
"Get over it," she said. "Ask for help. People want to help." So I followed her advice and asked for more help.
People began to respond. Some responded right away, giving an immediate yes. But others did not answer so quickly. I, of course, interpreted this as "people are sick of me and tired of helping me all the time." That might have been true for some, but was obviously not true for everyone. It's OK to be tired of helping. I get tired too, so I’m perfectly fine with my loved ones taking a break.
What I didn't realize was that some people may not respond right away. But that didn’t mean they weren’t willing to help. For one chemo request, my Uncle Mike called on the Wednesday before chemo and volunteered to sleep over the night after chemo. God bless Uncle Mike and Aunt Carole. They’ve been a package of blessing for me. My friends Deborah and Carole emailed the night before chemo, volunteering to sleep over the day after chemo. Deborah and Carole, another package of blessing. My friend Jo Ann called and volunteered to come to chemo with me and since that chemo session started at 10:30 a.m. and went over lunch, she fetched lunch for us both. Jo Ann is another 'blessings' friend. But wait, there's more. My nephews Josh and Ben flew in from Wisconsin to cover two of the extra chemo weekends. And there were other friends who trickled in to help.
I finally realized that even though none of this help came on my have-it-all-planned timeline, it did not mean "nobody loves me" and "I'm a burden." The help came just when I needed, in a one-day-at-a-time kind of way. I can't tell you how much it cheered me to know that people cared enough to help. I realized that I am truly, truly lucky and blessed by all the love that surrounds me. But I also realized that people wanted to help. Even people I barely knew wanted to help. People like to help.
This metastasized breast cancer ain't no sent lesson. But I do see how I now have to live life one day at a time. I've had to learn to trust that just because everything doesn't all fall into place in a plan, that doesn't mean the help will never come and that the love isn't there. I have been unwillingly converted in my beliefs about help and have learned to go more with the flow. I have no choice. Let's face it, I've learned that I am not the world's fixer and organizer. I am just a mere passenger on the bus. I've had to learn to trust that when I pull the cord and ask the other bus riders to assist me, they will.
Thank you to everyone who has helped. Your kindness has truly meant the world to me and made it possible for me to continue down this hard road. You all are my support and my strength. Volunteer any damn point you want. I will stop assuming things. I will ask for help. I will take the help. I only hope you know how much I love you back.
And, oh, you got problems or an illness? I got your back and will do my best to be there in any way that I can.