We all need help at times. With cancer, we may need much more help than usual, especially if we are feeling ill, recovering from a procedure, or undergoing treatment. But accepting that you need a little help and asking for what you need can sometimes be difficult. In this article, we cover some tips on how you can ask for help when you have cancer.

Coming to terms with the need for help

A cancer diagnosis can be a major life-changing event, and it is very natural to feel overwhelmed at first. Changing emotions combined with the alterations to your daily needs, routines, and expectations can make for a challenging time. It is likely that you are going to need to ask for help from someone, at some point. If you are not used to doing this, then learning to ask for help can even become an added stress.

Explore your feelings

It is normal to feel uncomfortable about needing more help. It is also very common to feel angry, frustrated, and upset, or even guilty and ashamed. It is important to take the time to listen to these very valid feelings, and give yourself a bit of space to explore and understand them.

If you feel uncomfortable asking for help in certain situations (as most of us do), you may find it beneficial to take a moment to consider the reasons you feel that way. Do you prefer to do things on your own? Are you trying to avoid bothering others with your needs? Whatever the reason is, remember that these feelings are natural.

Feelings can send us very useful signals- they can let us know what is important to us, and help us come to terms with challenging changes to our life. Often, knowledge of the right way for us to move forward only comes only after we have stayed still and fully explored our emotions.

Asking for help is a strength

You might find that once you have processed some of your feelings, you are able to view the situation in a different light. You may begin to see that asking for help is actually a sign of strength and self-awareness. Knowing when you need help also shows courage and good judgement. It demonstrates that you are able to acknowledge your current limitations based on your levels of energy and resources.

Asking for help also shows that you prioritize your wellbeing, enabling you to pay it forward in the future.

Patient and friend hugging

Figure out the types of help you might need

Sometimes it can help to get some clarity by making a list of your needs. And if you’re feeling really energetic, you could go further by placing your likely needs into categories according to errands, household tasks, and social or emotional needs. Maybe even think about how these needs might change over time, as you progress through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

Not only will this list be useful when someone asks how they can help you, it will also give you something solid to work with and share with others, in a time when you may feel quite out of control in other areas of your life.

Examples of tasks you may need help with could include:


  • Picking up the groceries.
  • Paying in-person bills.
  • Picking up kids from school.
  • Rides to and from healthcare appointments.

Household tasks:

  • Preparing meals.
  • Doing the dishes.
  • Raking the leaves.
  • Mowing the lawn.
  • Tending the garden.
  • Cleaning tasks.
  • Doing laundry.
  • Paying bills, keeping on top of general household admin
  • Shovelling snow in the winter.

Emotional support:

  • Bringing over a coffee or treat from your favorite coffee shop or bakery.
  • Coming over for a visit the day before or after a treatment session.
  • Going for a walk with you in the park.
  • Being available to talk with you on the phone or in person on challenging days.
  • Just spending time hanging out together online or at home, playing games or watching movies for fun.

Practice asking for help

Learning to ask for help is a valuable skill, just like any other. It can also be approached in just the same way, by building up slowly, and practicing.

Once you’ve organized a list of your needs, you could think about who among your friends and family members would be best suited to each need. For example, if you have a friend who loves to cook, you could consider asking them in advance if they’d be willing to prepare a few meals for you during a challenging treatment week.

Tips when asking for help

  • Start at home and ask for help from people you feel most comfortable with.
  • Delegate tasks to different people to avoid relying too much on one person.
  • Be prepared to let go of some control and accept that others may do things differently than you might. Those leaves might not be raked up in the way you like, but at least they are getting done.
  • At the same time, stay aware of what is really important and non-negotiable for you. If you like to be in bed by 9 pm, then let people know that you would love a social visit, but evening visits are not possible. It is ok to set boundaries, and it is also ok to refuse help if you don’t feel comfortable with the person offering the support.

Go digital

Social media and group chat apps can be a good way to ask for help among friends, and organize the help you need. Sites like CaringBridge or Lotsa Helping Hands also offer user-friendly ways to organize care for individuals in need across a broad network of people. List what you need on these sites, and others can volunteer without you explicitly asking them!

Accept help when it is offered

If people offer to help you, trust that they mean it. Remember how good it feels to help others? Practice saying “yes” to offers of help that would be useful, and offering simple thanks in return.

Remember that your family and friends will want to help, but they might not know the best way to give it. You may hear vague offers to help like, “Let us know if there is anything we can do,” or “Can I help you with anything?” This is where your list of tasks may come in handy. You could always start the conversation by showing them your list and asking if there is anything on there that they feel they could help with, no matter how small.

Ask your doctor for help

Your doctor and healthcare team can be a reliable source for advice, and help dealing with any worries or concerns you may have about your cancer or treatment. But sometimes it can be hard to know where to ask, and to feel confident enough to ask for what you need.

It can help to prepare in advance of scheduled appointments. Think about what you would like to ask- whether it is help with managing side-effects, worries, social support, financial support, or anything else you might need. Ask directly - What help can I get? What do I do if I have problems after treatment, Where do I go in an emergency? Can I contact healthcare teams or hospital departments directly? Who should I contact about side-effects?

Get phone numbers, names, and leaflets if you can, and don’t be afraid to use them. Sometimes the help is there, but it can take a while to find. Charities and patient support groups are often a good place to start. They can help you navigate the complexities of the healthcare systems involved in cancer treatment and after-care.

Consider alternative options for help and support

For many, extensive help from family and friends may not always be possible. But that doesn’t mean that you have to go without help at all. It does mean you may have to think about accessing help in different ways.

Hire professional help

For practical support, consider hiring a cleaner, a virtual admin assistant, or a person to do odd jobs for a few hours a month to cover some of your needs. Paying a professional also has the added advantage that you have greater control over how and when things get done. If it is really very important to you that the leaves in the yard are raked in a particular way, hiring a professional might be the best way to do it!

Join a support group

Cancer support groups can be a valuable help when dealing with cancer diagnosis and recovery. As well as meeting some of your emotional support needs, they can also be an invaluable source of practical advice. As you hear from others, you can glean insight on how to cope with cancer treatment, communicate with health care providers and loved ones, and more.

Cancer support group

Consider a therapist

Or if group support is not your thing, you might want to consider asking for help from a counsellor or therapist. This can be especially useful if you don’t feel you can talk through these issues elsewhere.

Cancer doulas are also becoming more common. They are professional people who can come with you as you navigate cancer- offering you emotional and physical support alongside the medical support from your healthcare team.

Learn more about how to manage bladder cancer

Managing cancer requires resilience and help from others. If you’re looking for information or tips on managing bladder cancer, visit our blog for a range of useful articles and resources.

Further links and resources

Last Updated: 10 Jun 2024 03:26 pm