"I'm so sorry to hear about your cancer. Just tell me what I can do to help."
And they mean it too. Over and over again, I have had offers of help from friends who are genuinely eager to do something when they hear what my family is going through. Given that I can expect to get a good deal sicker before I get better, I also figure I'm going to need some help. So this should be a perfect partnership. Right?
Except that it isn't easy to accept help. Maybe this is a particularly British thing (my British-Indian friend told me I needed to be more Indian - 'we're not afraid to ask,' she said). But it's not easy to turn that general offer of help into something concrete. To ring up and say, 'You know you offered to help? Well I really need xyz. Will you do it?'
Even when people insist, it can be difficult to know what to ask people to do. What will I need after my next session of chemo? I don't know!
Some of my friends have taken matters into their own hands and have arrived on my doorstep the week after my chemo to deliver a family meal. This kind of help is truly wonderful...but without coordination it can lead to an excess of food at one time and a famine at another!
So, first, I needed to figure out some practical things that I could ask people to do. The biggest one, I think, is to provide meals. This way I don't have to cook, and I don't have to shop too much either, or weary my poor chemo-brain with planning dishes. One friend offered to cook twice a week all the way through my chemo (I know, amazing!) but I worried that this would just become too much of a chore for her and a source of guilt for me. So I decided to ask for meals every night for one week after each chemo session from a larger group so no-one has to cook too often for me. I'm hoping that the second and third week of each cycle I will be well enough to do meals myself (if not I might have to learn to ask again...)
Another practical thing is to have someone to pick me up after each chemo session. I don't think this is strictly necessary but it is rather nice.
And thirdly, I will need help with childcare when I have to be in hospital.
Next, I found a good friend prepared to coordinate. it's much easier when someone else does the asking. Within hours of her sending out the email, the rota for my next chemo session was full. People were pleased to have to chance to help and I now know that I don't have to worry about feeding my family for at least a week (I can probably do another week on leftovers!), I have someone to collect me after my session and I have friends on standby to help with the kids.
Now if people ask me what they can do, I just direct them to my friend who adds them to the email list.
So far this is going remarkably well and my family have been spoilt with an array of fabulous new dinner dishes. There is only one problem. If all my friends all cook this well, then I'm going to have to take a cookery course when this is all over. Otherwise my kids will stage a revolution...
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