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    Getting By With A Little Help From Your Friends

    By agebuzz contributing editor Julie Buyon


    Asking for Help


    EVERYBODY needs a little help now and then, even a Powerhouse Patient.  


    Sometimes it can be small things, like making chicken soup, changing the linens, walking the dog or sometimes larger things, like note-taking at a doctor’s appointment, coordinating meals from friends, or assistance with getting up from the floor after a fall. I had cancer three times when my kids were growing up, and boy did we need a lot of help! Most people I know, myself included, are pretty uncomfortable with asking for help. But let me help you get past that!


    People Love To Help Out


    What we forget, as we wrestle with the feelings of vulnerability, being a burden, and the awkwardness of asking for help, is that most people genuinely LOVE to help. One reason people love to help is that it makes them feel good about themselves – TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT!!!!!  Very often, when you let someone help you, you are giving them the gift of feeling like a hero.  


    Don’t believe me? Think about all the times you have helped someone out – whether it was bringing a meal to a family in need, picking up a friend’s medication at the pharmacy, or giving flowers-  and think about how that made you feel. Pretty good, I bet. Acts of kindness affirm for us that we are the people we hope to be, or at least try to be, and that is an awfully nice feeling.  


    When you recognize that giving and receiving help is very much an exchange in which everyone benefits, it will make asking for assistance much easier. 


    A Little Help from Friends


    Often we just need a little help, and asking for that is easy because we don’t feel like we are imposing too much. A simple errand, offering to pay the child next door to bring the recycling to the curb each week, or borrowing a heating pad, requests most of us are comfortable making. But sometimes we need a lot of help, and asking for it can seem intimidating. 


    Many Hands Make Light Work


    During my toughest cancer treatment – when I was out of commission for nearly a year and my kids were tweens – the extraordinary generosity of small and large acts of assistance I received still bring me to tears, 14 years later: Meals for months and months, driving my kids to school and activities, grocery shopping, accompanying me to chemo, supporting my husband, visiting me, taking the dog for a walk – in short – taking care of me and my entire family. My network of assistance spread to nearly 100 people, many of whom I barely knew – but they were happy to help. And when you think about it, asking dozens of people to deliver two extra meals over the course of 8 months is not such a big “ask”.  


    Don’t let concerns about being a burden keep you from reaching out! Remember, many hands make light work, so spreading the tasks among as many people as possible creates little burden for any one person.


    Asking for help from others can also be a profound act of caring. By requesting assistance beyond family and close friends, we can alleviate some of the stresses on those we love. My wonderful network of helpers made my illness manageable for my family.  


    Because I had had cancer five years earlier, I knew to ask for help before my treatment started. I was lucky to have exceptionally organized friends who coordinated a support network for me for 8 months using only email. If you’re not lucky enough to have Patti and Lauren (my very good friends) in your life, there are many resources to create and coordinate caring networks for you.


    Where and How to Ask For Help


    There are probably many people in your community (family, friends, congregants, et al) who are happy to help with meals, running errands, visiting, driving to appointments, etc…, but it can be a lot of work to make calls and difficult to feel like one is always asking for help. And often people want to help but don’t know what is needed – so tell them!


    A great way to manage much of this is by using one of several care-organizing websites like LotsaHelpingHands, CaringBridge, or Give InKind, which easily organize friends, family, and colleagues to help out as well as updating everyone on what is currently going on.   


    This is not only great for organizing assistance with tasks such as providing meals, transportation, online bill paying, people to take you to the doctor, etc… but also to post information so you don’t have to answer the same questions again and again. 


    Gather your email contact list and presto: there’s a caring network ready to help out. Friends and family – and their friends  – will create a large network to support you. The more volunteers helping out in small ways, the less stress on the immediate family. Delegate the coordination of this site to a close friend – so immediate family members can have more time helping you. Another reason to delegate site coordination to someone else is that it removes you from the “ask” – all these sites alert the people in your support network to what tasks need doing and people can then sign up online to do them. That way, there’s no need for you to make phone calls asking for help or to feel awkward if someone declines to help out.


    These support coordination websites allow your care coordinator to list all the tasks that need doing and alert people in your support network when a new task has been added. The people in your network then sign up online to do the task. They are even sent a reminder a day or so before the task needs to be done.  


    And don’t forget that many tasks – such as paying bills, doing research, et al, can be done remotely by people who want to help but don’t live locally.  


    Another source of assistance can be your religious community.  Even if you are not an active member of your house of worship, many congregations are happy to provide volunteer assistance and be part of your support network. Also, check out your local Aging in Place community (find one through the Village to Village Network), many of which have volunteers happy to assist with tasks.


    A Powerhouse Patient understands that a support system can help manage the challenges of illness, both emotionally and practically. No one can do it alone. Getting the help and support you need is often equally as important as the right medical care. 



    “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”

    Maya Angelou


    Julie Buyon is a palliative care patient advocate. She has professional and personal expertise in assisting people with complex illnesses navigate the health care environment. Julie’s role is to help patients feel empowered, and her agebuzz posts are intended to make sure agebuzz readers have all the tools and info they need to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Julie would love agebuzz readers to email her at [email protected] with any questions or problems encountered with the health care system, and she will do all she can to address those issues in upcoming blog posts. She also welcomes feedback regarding her advice or recommendations. Read all of Julie’s agebuzz posts here and get in touch with Julie now at [email protected].