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Hester ​Hill Schnipper​ ​

​Photo courtesy of Beth Israel D​eaconess Medica​l Center​​

ONE OF THE GREATEST WORRIES for many cancer patients is being a burden to family members and friends. Whether we need rides to the hospital, help with child care, or physical assistance during treatment, none of us wants to cause pain or stress for those we care about.

We typically want to protect those we love, and it can be painful to acknowledge that our illness could bring pain and worry to the people we care about. We need to remember, however, that we are not the cause of the strife. Rather, the cancer is causing this strain. By allowing people to help us at our most vulnerable time, we can give people the opportunity to address this pain as an act of their love for us.

We can’t eliminate the worry and sadness that comes with a cancer diagnosis, but here are some ways we can lean into existing support systems and seek outside services.

1) Acknowledge fears and worries. Cancer treatment is tough and often exhausting. Telling those who care for you not to worry doesn’t make it easier. Voicing your concerns can help you confront these fears together.

2) Be open and honest with family members about how you feel and what you need. If it’s too hard to speak frankly, consider meeting with an oncology social worker or another cancer-savvy counselor to help you and your family.

3) Try to come at worries from a place of abundance and gratitude, not of scarcity and reproach. For example, instead of fretting about continually asking for help with meals, remember that your friends want to help, and delivering a meal for your family makes them feel better.

4) Take the best possible care of yourself. Get adequate sleep, follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

5) Look into alternative sources of support. For example, your place of worship or your faith community may have volunteers to provide rides to appointments or pharmacies. Check for medical transportation programs offered through your town, county or state.

6) If you can afford it, consider hiring someone to clean the house, watch the kids for a few hours or run errands. Delegate less enjoyable tasks that could suck limited energy so you can do things you enjoy.

7) If needed, ask your hospital or treatment center for financial assistance resources, and explore services offered through patient advocacy organizations, such as cancercare.org/financial.

8) Look into websites, such as lotsahelpinghands.org or caringbridge.org, that allow you to request and manage requests for help.

9) Encourage your helpers to take caregiving breaks. Invite a friend to visit you for the weekend or ask neighbors to come over for an afternoon so your loved one can get out, exercise or relax.

10) Remind yourself that giving and receiving tend to balance out over a lifetime. Right now, you may need help, but at other times, you have been and will be the helper. When that time comes, you will know from experience what a gift lending that support can be. 

Hester Hill Schnipper, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor who served as the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.​ 


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