It’s not always easy to accept help and support. I was diagnosed with cancer in my early thirties when I was already struggling with a lot of feelings of failure.
I was living on a boat instead of in a house. I had bounced from bad job to bad job and had zero financial security. My life seemed to be going in an unusual direction and I was torn between being excited by that and feeling terrified. I had a wonderful support network but I wanted to be a success on my own terms.
When the cancer diagnosis came along I almost didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want to worry them. I also didn’t want to lose the small amount of control that I had over my life. It was of course a no-brainer to tell my parents… I am awful at keeping secrets so there was no way that I could pretend this big life changing thing wasn’t happening to me for even the shortest of telephone conversations.
I have met very many cancer patients over the years who keep elements of their diagnosis and treatment to themselves. Of course that is a very personal choice and there are all sorts of (very good) reasons for maintaining a level of privacy but the work involved in doing this has always seemed to me like it might be quite a lot… The act of remembering not to mention something feels like it could take up quite a lot of headspace and I am not someone who likes to make an unnecessary effort!
Actually telling my parents did result in a scenario where I was unwillingly moved off my boat and into alternative accommodation because of concerns around hygiene while going through chemotherapy. I wanted to deal with my treatment in my own way, with my friends around me, and in a familiar environment, but I was overruled. I do occasionally make jokes about kidnap but they tend to go down like a lead balloon.
Losing control of what was happening in my life so completely forced me to focus on an alternative strategy for feeling like I did have some control. I decided to start to actively reframe some of my experiences and be deliberate in how I thought about what I was going through. Feeling like control had been taken away from me was making me feel rubbish, so I replaced that narrative and told myself a new story about how I was doing my friends and family a big favour by accepting their help.
Rips and tears appear in the story I tell myself fairly regularly. I do get angry when I feel like I am being told what to do or manipulated into a particular set of behaviors, because I would still like to be much more in control of my life. But my cancer has been incurable since 2015 so by far the easiest thing to take control of has been how to approach living with that knowledge.
Living long-term with a cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of very difficult emotions. I don’t want this health problem to define my life, I don’t want to feel continually angry about being dealt this lot, I don’t want people to pity me, I don’t want to pity myself. At the centre of all of these difficult emotions is me, myself, I. And one of the hardest things to come to terms with is how normal life continues around me when I would prefer that it stop.
I have found that for me the only way to cope is just to get over myself.
Reasons to accept help;
- Out of love for yourself. You deserve help and support, even if you only accept it as a temporary measure… You deserve to be treated like royalty at least briefly for a spot of respite.
- Out of love for the people who want to help you. There is nothing so demeaning as having a door closed on you when you are popping a lasagne around for a neighbour you think is in need. Help the people who want to help you by being clear about the things you would like help with and by accepting their support. Some people just love to be needed so take this opportunity to give them that!
- Because you are not the only person with a problem. It could well be the case that the people who are trying to help you need a bit of distraction from their own problems…
- So you can pay it forward. Maybe you really don’t need any help at all and you can do it all by yourself but if you do accept help could it give you more time and energy to reach out and help someone else? Helping out is like a really annoying chain letter; it can be difficult to stop it once it gets started.
- Because it makes the whole world a better place. I mean, just imagine if everybody helped each other…? That can only happen if we are all ready and willing of accepting a bit of help.