How To Reach Out For Help During Your Cancer Journey

05 Oct 2021

Support from others during your cancer journey is non-negotiable. In fact, you will need all kinds of support, from practical to emotional. Many people are hesitant to reach out for help or support, but at a time like this, you need to drop any sense of 'I can do this alone' or 'I don't want to bother people' and ask.  

We asked Gestalt Therapist and counsellor Lesley McPherson, herself a two-times cancer survivor, for her best advice in asking for support. 

Support During Diagnosis

When you’re diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer – or any form of cancer – you will feel many emotions such as shock, sorrow, worry, anger, and loneliness (this list is not definitive, any emotion you feel is valid). Surrounding yourself with a loving, supportive team is as important as ensuring you are receiving the correct treatment for your diagnosis.

It can be a good idea to divide up the type of support you will need during this time and from there, you can work out who the best person or people to reach out.  

Medical Support 

First and foremost is medical support. Your oncology team will be formed with your best treatment and outcome in mind. Never be afraid to pick up the phone and call them at any time. They are there to help and support you and ensure you are empowered with the best information and stability during this time. 

Practical Support 

This may take the form of everyday issues such as helping look after your children or other family members. It can be cooking, cleaning and everyday household tasks, which may not be physically possible for you to undertake. You may need someone to drive you to and from the treatment centre as well as help with the school run if you have kids, or other extracurricular activities with the family. It's also vital that you have someone to take care of you immediately after treatment or when side effects, such as nausea and tiredness, become unbearable. 

Emotional Help

This is the person you need by your side when you have that inevitable meltdown, or when the tears just won't stop flowing. Find someone who is strong, non-judgmental and a soft place to land. You will have that person in your circle and your gut instinct will let you know who it is. They will be there for you at the first ring of their phone. 

How to ask for help

Asking for support can be daunting. It is a time when you are faced with your own diagnosis, and potentially even your mortality. Understandably, this may threaten your own sense of strength. Some people find it difficult to ask for help, as they feel that these means they’re not strong enough to cope with these challenging times. This is simply not true. 

It can be helpful to turn the situation around and ask: “How would you want to help someone in your situation?”. This can help you determine not just the help you need, but from whom you will get that particular form of support from.

Always remember, your friends, family and loved ones can feel helpless in the face of your diagnosis. Giving them something practical to do can be empowering for them and it makes them feel as though they are contributing to your wellbeing and happiness. 

Be as specific as you can be when it comes to asking for help. For instance: if somebody says, “Let me know if you can do anything”, don’t just answer “Yes I will”.

Instead, be specific about what you do need in the immediate future and what you may need long-term. If you need help with your children and collecting them from school, make this request through a reliable friend who can then take charge of a driving pool. Knowing that your children are being collected – particularly on days when you may find it difficult to drive – can not only mean you will feel relieved, but it also gives you time and space to rest when you most need it.

For those offering to help – they too can feel myriad emotions during this time. By allowing them to help in a practical way, they feel that they are supporting you the best way they know how during this time of your life. 

Helpful steps

Some helpful steps to take when you are forming your support circle include:

  • Speaking to your partner (or the person you trust most). Together you can come up with a list of help you will require in the coming days, weeks, and months.
  • Speak up about your feelings. It may be a good idea to talk to a professional therapist to help you tackle the emotions you may experience during this time. Talking therapy can be just as important as medical therapy during your treatment. A counsellor can help you deal with issues or emotions as you continue with your treatment. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a counsellor.  
  • Join a support group. This may be in-person or online. Talking to other people who are in a similar situation or who have experienced a similar diagnosis can help you talk about your fears, treatment, side-effects, and emotions. 
  • When you are first diagnosed, you may be overwhelmed by the advice given by well-wishers who hope to help you heal. With your partner or through your support group, discuss the best way to deal with such advice. The simple words, “Thank you for your information” can be useful. 

On that note, complementary medicines may help you deal with stress or other emotions during this time. However, be sure to speak to your oncologist for their advice to make sure they don’t react with your treatment protocol.