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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Taking Care of Your Family

Working With Helpers

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Mothers with breast cancer hear this kind phrase every day. Yet most of us don’t know how to transform these earnest words into actual assistance.

Barriers to Asking for and Accepting Help

For many moms, including those with breast cancer, asking for and accepting help is a challenge.

Reconcile yourself to the need for help.

Realize that you will have limited energy while you’re fighting breast cancer. Then ask yourself how you want to use that energy. Do you want to shop for groceries or attend your daughter’s piano recital? Mop the floor or go apple picking? Take out the trash or read to your toddler?

Asking for help is not about you. And it’s certainly not a reflection of your capabilities or coping skills. It’s about doing your very best to care for your children under exceptional circumstances.

Remove psychological roadblocks.

We set up psychological roadblocks that prevent us from seeking the assistance we desperately need. These are some of the barriers that stand between us and the help we need:

Distorted Thoughts: I should be able to handle this myself.
Realistic Thoughts: Running a household and raising children under normal circumstances is a challenge. Maintaining these jobs when you’re seriously ill can be virtually impossible. No one (except yourself) would expect you to handle everything by yourself.

Distorted Thoughts: Other people will think I’m weak and helpless.
Realistic Thoughts: No one will think you’re weak and helpless. People will think you have breast cancer. If anything, people will respect you for seeking the help you need.

Distorted Thoughts: I don’t want other people to know my business or talk about me.
Realistic Thoughts: Allowing someone to cook a meal or rake your leaves will not expose them to any personal information. You can be selective about whom you allow to do more personal things.

Distorted Thoughts: I don’t want to owe anyone favors.
Realistic Thoughts: People want to help you. They do not expect a favor in return. Accept help graciously. Thanking the helper is payment enough.

Distorted Thoughts: I don’t want anyone to see the mess in my house.
Realistic Thoughts: Unless you’re lucky enough to have a housekeeper, most homes are messy. Everyone has piles of papers and toys all over the floor. We’re self-conscious about our own homes, yet others hardly notice.

Distorted Thoughts: No one can do the things I do the way I do them.
Realistic Thoughts: You can give helpers instructions on how to do your laundry or what brands to buy at the store. You may also have to accept that things won’t be exactly the way you want them while you’re sick.

(Click here for more information about swapping distorted thoughts with more realistic ones.)

Plan Ahead

Neither you nor your doctor can predict how you will respond to various forms of treatment. Will you struggle with side effects from chemo? Will you be sidelined with complications from surgery? You won’t know for sure until treatment is under way. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead.

Line up some helpers to drive your kids to school just in case you need the assistance. Ask your neighbors to help out with shoveling your walkway if it’s necessary. Allow your friends to plan meals for your family after your surgery. It’s easier to decline help than to assemble it while you’re incapacitated.

Finding a Quarterback

Every good team needs a quarterback, and this includes your team of helpers. Consider asking a close friend or family member to take on the role of recruiting, organizing, and communicating with your helpers.

Helping Your Helpers

You can assist your helpers and their quarterback in several ways.

  • Write down the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of people who offer to help you.
  • Keep a grocery list. Ask your partner, your older children, and your helpers to assist with the list, especially when they use up the last of a particular item.
  • Write down instructions for how to use the dishwasher, the clothes dryer, or any appliance that’s tricky to operate.
  • If you’re picky about your laundry, write down instructions for your helpers. Let them know, for example, which garments go into the dryer and which ones you let air dry.
  • Consider purchasing a notebook or a binder to help you keep track of the information above.
  • Express your appreciation to your helpers with a phone call, an e-mail, a thank-you note, or even a party when you finish treatment.

Using the Internet

The Internet offers several options for organizing and communicating with your helpers.

Information Sharing

Some websites are useful for general communication, allowing you to share information with all your friends and family members at one time. Two examples are Care Pages and Caring Bridge. These sites allow you to create your own simple web pages, where you can tell your story, give group updates, and share your photos. These sites will help you invite friends and family to register and to create a password so they can access your pages. People who register for your pages can receive an e-mail every time you add new information or photos. They can also add notes to your pages.

Interactive Communication

Other sites are useful for interactive communication, like allowing your friends to sign up online for carpool duty. These sites allow you to create your own simple, user-friendly website for free. Sometimes referred to as a wiki, your site will allow others to access and edit the information you put there.

Think of a wiki as a virtual sign-up sheet. It’s always up-to-date, allows volunteers to sign up or make changes themselves, can be accessed at any time, and doesn’t require a coordinator.

Besides being a sign-up sheet, a wiki is a communication vehicle. You can add all sorts of information, like directions to your house, contact information for volunteers, links to other online resources, and more.

A wiki is secure and easy to use. You decide what material can be modified and by whom. You can create your site within a matter of minutes with a system that functions much like familiar word processing software. It’s no-frills and low-tech. A few of these sites are PBWiki and GoogleSites. Click here for additional sites.

Here’s an example of how you might use a wiki:

  • Your friend has offered to organize some helpers to cook meals for you during chemo. While you appreciate her offer, you’re reluctant to agree because your children have multiple food allergies. Your friend decides to set up a wiki where volunteers can sign-up online to cook a meal for your family. She addresses food allergy concerns by adding the following to the wiki:
    • a list of your children’s allergies
    • some brand names of products that are safe for your kids
    • a link to a food allergy website that tells parents what to look for when shopping for food
    • a link to a cooking website that discusses safe meal preparation for people with allergies
    • recipes for some of your children’s favorite dishes

Share the Care

The Share the Care website is an online companion to a book with the same name. Both the book and the website are tools for coordinating groups of people who care for someone who is critically ill. The site explains the “share the care” model of caregiving and offers creative suggestions for finding helpers. You can also access useful downloadable forms, including grocery shopping lists, telephone trees, and caregiver schedules.

Jobs for Helpers

Dropping off dinner and driving your children are probably the only two tasks that come to mind when you consider allowing others to help you. If you think more broadly, you may realize that helpers can assist you in many ways. (Click here for a downloadable list of jobs.)

Household Tasks

Change the sheets
Clean up after dinner
Dust
Household repairs
Insurance paperwork
Laundry
Lawn maintenance
Light cleaning
Load/empty the dishwasher
Meal preparation
Pack lunch for the kids
Pay bills
Rake leaves
Recycling
Scheduling appointments
Shovel the snow
Straighten up the house
Trash
Vacuum
Walk the dog
Wash the dishes
Water plants

Transportation

For your kids:
To after-school activities
To birthday parties
To school

For you:
To chemotherapy and radiation treatment
To doctor’s appointments
To the hair salon

Personal Care

Bathing
Caring for wounds/drains
Getting you out of the house (lunch, walk, coffee, movie)
Lending books, movies, magazines, music
Shampooing
Visiting

Child Care

Attend school programs
Babysitting
Emergency child care
Playdates
Sleepovers

Errands

Dry cleaner
Clothes shopping with the kids
Grocery store
Pharmacy

Purchased Services

Cab rides
Child care
House services
Meals

Where to Find Help

Sometimes moms with breast cancer must actively seek the help they need, especially when they’re new to town, have a limited social network, or have no family living nearby. Consider the following resources:

General assistance

Consider making contacts through local social organizations, religious institutions, the hospital or clinic where you receive your care, government agencies, visiting nurses associations, paid or for-profit service providers, and nonprofit organizations

Transportation

Talk to your doctor if you need assistance getting to your chemotherapy or radiation appointments. She may be aware of free or low-cost transportation services. You may be able to receive some of your care, such as injections or infusions, in your home if transportation is a problem.

Online Stores

You can buy more than clothing and books online. At www.peapod.com, you can buy your groceries and have them delivered directly to your refrigerator. At www.drugstore.com, you can buy medicine, toothpaste, shampoo, and all the other goods you normally buy at your local drugstore.

Local stores and service providers

Many local stores, such as pharmacies and dry cleaners, will pick up and deliver to your home. Many services can also be available right at your home, including dog grooming and computer repair.

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