I’m sure most cancer patients have been told a number of times — “Let me/us know what I/we can do to help.” Being a person who has always been self-sufficient, I typically felt awkward telling people exactly what I needed and when. I was always more comfortable with people who offered something specific — “let me take Nate for you a certain time,” or “we’re going to set up dinners for you once/week” (that was my church family).
It wasn’t such a problem for me for quite awhile because I had family members — mainly one of my sisters, M., and my mother who would alternate coming to help with my 6 year old son, Nate, on weekends when Frank was working his weekend job. I relied on them so much, particularly during my “difficult” weekends, when I was on the third week of chemotherapy before I had an “easy” week of chemo with only one drug. Then we would start the cycle over again.
This all changed, however, when my mother had a stroke on June 21 and my sister had already started working a second job on weekends to make extra money for her family. I was at the end of my chemotherapy and I was very sick and needed help. When my mom had her stroke, my sister, M., was helping out with my mom — which is where she needed to be. My oldest sister, J., came in from 475 miles away to also help out with Mom because she’s my mother’s Health Care Proxy. She also needed to be with my mother.
So I got brave. Bold. I called and asked people for help with Nate. You know what? They were happy to help out when they could.
Now with surgery coming up in 1 1/2 weeks, I really had to get bold. I’m scheduled for a single modified radical mastectomy on Aug. 6 and my mother had planned to help me out during my entire recovery from surgery. Obviously, that can’t happen as she is still in rehabilitation from her stroke. My sister, M., is helping my mother out since my mother now lives in a nursing facility close to her.
I typically update a group of friends and family via a mass email, and, as I said in the email:
I’m going to be bold, and just put this out there. When local people ask if there’s anything they can do to help, I’ll say that what we’ll need most help with is Nate during the evenings, from 5:00 – 8:00 or 9:00 (usually his bedtime), particularly at the beginning of my recovery.
As the saying goes, “ask and ye shall receive.” I received a fair number of responses, enough to get us through 2 1/2 weeks, which is enough. After that, I should be feeling good enough to be able to handle Nate in the evenings (with Frank’s help), and if I’m not, I can call on the same people who have offered to help out.
Even harder than directly asking for help was making out the schedule, but I did. I took into account which evenings people had requested and tried to make the schedule somewhat equitable. Realizing that I had neglected to ask people to watch Nate over weekends (big WHOOPS!), I was lucky enough to take care of that by running into a mom of Nate’s former preschool friends. She had heard about my situation and offered her help. When I asked if she might be available to watch him one or two weekends during the days, she was more than happy to do so. One of our family members was also willing to watch Nate over a weekend. He’s reluctant to stay overnight anywhere, so Frank will drive him to their house and back, but at least we have weekends covered as well.
We also have three people who are willing to be “backups” if anything happens with the schedule and the people who are in place to take care of Nate on certain evenings end up not being able to for whatever reason.
I’ve sent out emails to all of the people on the “Nate Care” schedule along with our address and our home phone number and my cell number. I also told them what time he typically gets out of summer school (although that is flexible during my recovery time) and when would be ideal for him to be home so he can see Mom a bit before he gets to bed at a reasonable time.
Frank, Nate and I all talked this through with our family therapist last week, and she thought it was a good idea for him to be away from the home in the evening and on weekends since he has a lot of fear about the surgery and its aftermath (i.e. how I’ll look different). He also has expressed that he doesn’t want to visit me in the hospital which is fine. If he changes his mind, he can visit me, but we’re not going to force that on him.
This will really be the biggest help that we can get, the care of Nate while I’m recovering from surgery. We won’t worry about him, we’ll know he’s being taken care of, he’ll be distracted from all of the “stuff” surrounding surgery that gets him so anxious and fearful, Frank will be able to attend to me and my needs, and I’ll be able to rest easier and focus on my recovery. It sounds like the best all around solution. I hope it works out that way.
Now we just have to get to the surgery. August 6. Wish me well.