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What your friends can do for you

Wednesday, 6 April 2011 15:30:00 Europe/London

a chemo patient and friend meeting for coffee

What your friends can do for you. 

Before breast cancer it had never occurred to me that I didn’t have to do absolutely everything myself. Much is written about giving and getting ‘emotional support’ in times of trouble. But what exactly is that? I have heard it said that ‘if it’s not practical, it’s not spiritual’. Think about it. Do I want someone to ring me up on the telephone to commiserate with my woes? Maybe - but not for long. On the other hand a phone call from a friend who is in the supermarket asking ‘is there anything I can bring you?’ is truly an act of kindness. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like taking the trouble to travel halfway across town in order to take out the rubbish.

Many people were quick to say: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” At the time that they said it I couldn’t think of anything. More accurately, everything needed doing. And what if I asked them to do something and they said “no”? For me the problem was not ‘what are my friends prepared to do for me?’ but ‘what am I prepared to ask my friends to do for me?’

May I suggest that you write two lists: the first one is a list of friends and family; the second is a list of things that need doing. Now, match up who you think will be up to what job. The first job on the list should be ‘administering the rota’. Choose someone who is bossy, capable and well liked to be in charge. This lets you off the hook from making lots of emotionally draining phone calls and trying to juggle everybody else’s schedules. You will have enough to do with organising all your hospital appointments.

Other jobs to find volunteers for:

Transport: driving you to and from the hospital.
Household: cooking; shopping; gardening; laundry and cleaning; making the beds; taking out the rubbish
Family: collecting the kids from school and babysitting
Financial and administrative: filling in benefits claim forms; arranging hospital appointments; writing letters; filing; lending you money
Emotional: accompanying you to medical appointments and chemotherapy sessions; going for walks; watching tv; someone to phone in the middle of the night
Well-being: giving you a massage; teaching you gentle yoga; taking you out to lunch; helping you to go through your wardrobe and devise new ‘Chemo Chic’ outfits.

Learning to accept help can be nearly as difficult as learning to ask for it. It sometimes seems almost instinctive to say “no thanks, I’m fine” to offers of money; lifts and help with household chores. I try to remember what my friend Flossie said: “rejecting help that is freely offered is also a rejection of the person that offered it.”

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