How to Accept and Ask for Help When Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer
If you’re living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), you know just how challenging it can be to balance treatments and doctor’s appointments with your regular day-to-day tasks and errands, especially when you’re dealing with fatigue, pain, and other side effects.
You may have been able to juggle your family, professional, and social life more easily in the past, but part of adjusting to the new normal of MBC includes making some changes. Rather than try to do everything on your own, it might be time to ask for some help.
Asking for help is not easy for everyone, especially those who have traditionally managed their household or take pride in their independence. 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 from the Breastcancer.org Community 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 your diagnosis, 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. 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. You may find it difficult to communicate openly with your children about how you’re feeling out of fear that you might upset them, but older children and young adults are likely to be aware of the seriousness of MBC and may be looking for an opportunity to help.
Of course, many people live alone or far away from friends and relatives. If you don’t have a big support network at home or nearby, consider reaching out to local resources such as a church or community organization. Also, take advantage of your hospital’s social workers — the place where you receive treatment likely has resources you can use to obtain some assistance. A staff social worker will be able to refer you to support groups, caregivers, and other resources.
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. 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. Or if you’re lucky enough to have a nurse or other medical professional in the family, ask if they’re willing to go to doctor’s appointments with you to be an extra set of eyes and ears.
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.
“It’s pretty amazing to me when going through something so difficult there may be a few people in your life who just are not helpful,” says Community member KatyK. “Set firm boundaries with them … If it doesn’t feel ‘right’ or good to you it probably isn’t.”
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?’” asks Breastcancer.org Community member pajim. “Because often people do. Tell the next person who asks you that, ‘Yes, you can help! I need help filling in these forms!’”
Sometimes a friend or relative’s offer to help may be vague, or they might fail to follow up. Consider reaching out rather than assuming their offer was insincere. They may not know exactly what you need or how to help. A specific request from you could be all it takes.
“Accept help when you need it,” Community member jobur advises. “This is easier if you keep in mind how good it makes you feel when you can help others.”
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 the 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.
“I would encourage anyone [with metastatic breast cancer] to learn to ask for help,” says Community member Leftfootforward. “As a mother of four, I have had to learn to let a little bit of control go to make my life easier. Seek help, whether it be meals prepared by others, cleaning services, childcare help, etc.”
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.
Make use of digital tools
Using social media can be a smart way to figure out who in your network is willing and able to offer you help. Consider posting a request on Facebook, or creating a private group through sites like CaringBridge or Lotsa Helping Hands to coordinate tasks with your friends and family. Or, simply create a group text to keep everyone in the loop on when you might need someone to walk the dog, give you a ride to an appointment, or help prepare a meal.
Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for help
If you’re experiencing side effects from treatment, such as pain, trouble sleeping, or depression that is severe enough that it is impacting your quality of life, ask your doctor for help with managing them. Don’t suffer in silence.
As Community member pajim says, “… ask for whatever chemical help you need. If you’re in pain, get it controlled. Having trouble sleeping? Ask for sleeping pills. Depressed? Get meds. It’s really hard for us to ask for help, but sometimes it’s necessary.”
Get financial help
Medical costs can be a financial strain for people with MBC and their families, even if you have good health coverage. Financial resources can be stretched even thinner if you’ve had to stop working or reduce your work schedule. If you find yourself in need of financial help, there are resources out there you should know about.
Look into whether you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security Income (SSI) benefits. If submitting a disability claim is right for your situation, this can be expedited for people with MBC based on the Compassionate Allowances initiative. Ask a friend or family member to help you file your claim, or visit your local Social Security Administration office to speak to a representative who can help you.
You may be able to obtain financial help with practical matters like transportation for treatment from nonprofit organizations like CancerCare or the American Cancer Society.
You can also find help with insurance reimbursement and referrals to co-pay relief programs through PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool.
There may be additional local resources you can reach out to for help in your community.
Learn more about how to find financial assistance on our Paying for Your Care page.
Work through feelings of guilt or shame
Asking for help can be difficult and can make you feel like you’re losing your independence or burdening your loved ones. But try to remember how you would feel about helping your friends and family members if they needed it. Most people truly do want to help but often don’t know how. 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. When living with MBC, asking for help might just need to be part of your new normal from now on. And that is OK.
“I needed so much help with my young family during my treatment, but I was surrounded by many people who were willing to step in and help our family during this stressful time,” says Community member Springlakegirl. “Extreme challenges often bring out the best in people, and I am forever changed by the love and thoughtfulness of those who prayed for me, took care of my children, brought meals, and visited me.”
If you are living with MBC, join the conversation with others who share your experience in the Breastcancer.org Community.
Written by: Adam Leitenberger, editorial director
This article is part of Circle of Care: Finding Support with Metastatic Breast Cancer, presented by: