April 26, 2009

Cancer and Saying ‘Thank You’

thank-you

“What’s the right way to thank friends for their help and to show my appreciation?,” asked Garnet, a survivor, in the comment section of my last post (Cancer and Friendship). Her question evoked the words of Richard Acker, a 36-year old stage 4 colon cancer patient in my book.

“When we receive help, it is clearly benefiting us, but it also gives some benefit to those who are helping us. They feel good, it makes them happy, it helps them to express their love for us in a concrete way.”

I agree and believe that when you receive help while you are ill, you don’t have to do anything other than say, “Thank you.”  I haven’t always followed this rule though.  Especially after treatment, when I made big thank you gestures – mostly in the form of dinner parties where I unleash my inner Barefoot Contessa.  My desire to thank came not only from my genuine gratitude, but also a bit from the guilt of feeling like I was an imposition, and a tad bit from shame that I needed help to being with.   Thank you gestures made the help I received into something reciprocal, which made me feel less like a sick cancer patient.

But I’ve come to think of that attitude and the need to do something thankful as bullshit.  Why?  Because I AM a young adult cancer patient and I WAS sick. This is not an equal, reciprocal exchange.  When we are down and out we need help.  When I graciously accept assistance without reciprocating, I am humbled and reminded of how helpless I am sometimes.  This is not a bad thing.  In my eyes, this is part of getting real with what it means to live with cancer.

When I do something for someone else in need I don’t do it because it makes me feel good or because I want something in return.  I do it because I love someone or care about helping to alleviate suffering in the world (that sounds kind highfalutin but it is true.)  When someone helps me, I hope this is also their motive.  Now, when I’m sick and need help, I simply show my gratitude by saying “Thank you,” it feels really right.

What is it like for you to accept help?  Do you ever feel guilty doing it?  Do you feel like you have to give back and do something?  Does it make you feel weak to accept help or does it empower you to recognize your limitations?  Have you ever done something for friends and family to thank them for helping you during an illness?

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Comment(s)

  1. Chris Says:
    April 27th, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    Accepting help has been enormously (and unexpectedly) difficult for Maggie and me. I didn’t think I was particularly proud but a record plays in my brain every time that says “you should be embarrassed having someone else do that when you’ve got two perfectly good hands.” Fact is, my two perfectly good hands stay pretty busy caring for my wife. And when they aren’t occupied with that task, my perfectly good brain cranks into hyperdrive or dives into shutdown mode, rendering my hands and the rest of me nearly useless. But the dishes and laundry don’t do themselves. And, when in need (as we learned yesterday), toilet paper can be a great gift from a friend. It still feels weird to ask for help. But I’m getting much better at accepting it if it appears. And thank you is very easy for me to say.

    I’ve found that it helps me be ok with accepting help when people validate my caregiving responsibilities. That might sound weird but it works for me. They help me allow them to help me. Saying “look, you’ve got enough on your plate. Let me ” frees me to easily say “Ok. Thank you.” But, I must say, offering to help someone with a “call me if you need anything,” even if you capitalize “ANYTHING” doesn’t help. I’m never going to call. So, if you want to help, make like Nike and Just Do It. I mean, really, who’s going to turn down toilet paper? Or a hamburger?


  2. Lori Says:
    April 27th, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    It’s far easier for me to give than receive help. As for saying thank you, I do as you do. Just say it. And I keep saying it. I left my parents a voicemail yesterday after receiving an amazing comment from someone in one of my blog posts, telling them again, 7 years later, how much I appreciated their being here for me when I had cancer. They jumped on a plane immediately. I told them I would do the same for them.
    I don’t help people to get something back or to feel good, but feeling good is a byproduct and there’s no shame in acknowledging that. Of course it’s the right thing to do, but why not enjoy the glow of knowing that it feels good to pay rent on the planet?
    Sorry for the blathering -am superswamped but wanted to comment – as well as thank you for the question.
    L


  3. Missy Diggs Says:
    April 27th, 2009 at 4:43 PM

    When I was diagnosed with my super-fun (read: rare and aggressive) cancer, I knew my little family would not be able to make it without a lot of help. And even though I felt some shame and guilt about that, I decided to say yes to any genuine offer of help. I have received amazing help from people I didn’t even know before. I have also had the experience where people who were really close friends of mine before cancer have just sort of wrung their hands helplessly and said “I wish there was something I could DO….” Meanwhile, people I hardly know have brought us meals every week for a year, picked up my laundry on Friday and brought it back clean and folded on Monday, let me borrow a car for months and months. I have thanked everyone as much as I can but I agree that it’s not an even exchange and I can’t be expected to return all these favors. I do look for ways that I can “pay it forward” and I think I am more likely to make the effort than I used to be. I hope I can stop needing this much help, but I am so humbled and grateful for all the help I have received; it makes me want to reach out to people who don’t have this much support.


  4. Cathy Bueti Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 5:14 AM

    I have always had trouble accepting help. When my husband died I didn’t want anyone to help me. I was going to live on my own and move on with life alone. To me accepting help made me feel less of a person. It made me feel weak. I also think it was me in survival mode. So when a cancer diagnosis came along a few years later I jumped right back in to survival mode not wanting to accept help from anyone. Although it did get to a point when I needed to give in and let those around me help. I am much more comfortable with being on the giving end though. Which is probably why I became an OT….I wanted to work in a helping profession.


  5. Wendy S. Harpham, MD Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    Dear Kairol,

    As a “MD”–Mommy/Doctor–I was most comfortable as a “giver.” But I needed help getting through treatment and rearing my children while dealing with on-and-off treatment from 1990-1998. So I learned firsthand about being a “taker.”

    I learned that a powerful way for me to show my love is to trust my friends and family to see my vulnerable side. When I need help, I show my love by asking for and accepting such help.

    Like Lori, I said “thank you” at the time of the gift, whenever I could. In person. With a note or card. Or with a note or gift after I was well again. Also like Lori, I’ve continued to thank people even years later by telling them of my continued sense of gratitude, mentioning it in holiday cards or when I bump into them in the grocery store.

    As described by Missy, I, too, have also used the energy of my gratitude in a pay-it-forward way: my gratitude motivates me to help others whatever way I can, which in my case usually means listening and writing.

    The phrase “Tis better to give than to receive” has profound meaning for me since my diagnosis. And I’d only add another sentence to it: “In certain ways, it takes greater courage and strength to receive than to give.”

    You might enjoy an article I wrote about thanking my healthcare team: http://tinyurl.com/cpywwl

    With hope, Wendy


  6. Garnet Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 7:56 PM

    Asking for help has been one of the hardest things I’ve found that I simply have to do now. In order to ask someone for help, I first need to recognize that I am limited in my ability to do whatever that thing/task is and that in itself is no easy feat! I’m thirty three years old! I should have no limitations right now! I was planning on having a baby for pete’s sake! (that’s funny cause my hubby’s name is Pete!)

    Accepting the limitations is hard enough. Asking for help is a hundred times harder!

    But ever since I finally did, I feel like a thousand-pound weight has been lifted from my shoulders! My hubby and I haven’t had to do our own laundry now for a whole month and that’s a fantastic feeling! Plus, as an added bonus, when it gets picked up and delivered, we get to have a visit with family! (Mama usually brings it back on a Monday or Tuesday mid-morning and visits with me for an hour or so, often bringing dinner and making me lunch while she’s here!) Also, my soon-to-be-step-mom has sent out an email to everyone who has ever once offered to help us with meals “or anything” all this time, taking people’s offers down and committing them to specific dates and meals on a three month long schedule! Now we expect dinners to come twice a week, pre-cooked, just have to be warmed up. So far, since we first asked seriously for this kind of help a month ago, our parents have all brought meals once or twice a week and it has helped out immensely since hubby’s too tired after a hard day’s work to figure out what I want to eat and I’m too sick and tired from chemo to figure out what I want to eat! It’s a blessing to have it already made for us!

    These are just two areas where we’ve been able to ask for help lately yet they are BIG areas of our lives, these are things that, as healthy 30-something young adults we should be expected to manage on our own (if our mamas taught us right!). But with cancer in the house, sometimes it’s just impossible to get a meal together and done on time or the entire laundry sorted, washed, folded and put away within a reassonable amount of time. So these reliable helping hands have made all the difference in the world to us because now I can just focus on healing and gathering my strength for this constant fight and my hubby can focus his energy on working as well as supporting me without losing his mind for lack of free time to himself!

    I’ve read your post several times over since it went up earlier this week and I’ve pondered deeply on what you say about simply saying “thank you” to these people who help us. I have witnessed the change in them, or the way their eyes or smiles light up just for having done something to benefit us! People so desperately want to help in any way they can and even though they wish they could just take the cancer away from us, they do seem to feel a great sense of satisfaction in just making us smile and look forward to a warm and loving meal. To them it may just be a simple meal but to us it means soooo much more! Like I said before, that simple meal gives us time to relax and just be with each other, maybe take a break from all the insurance-fighting, doctor-scheduling, results-waiting, and the overall chaos of being a cancer patient! And so far, the people who volunteer to help us and actually follow through, have expressed that it is thanks enough to them that we just enjoy that time together. They, too, are grateful that they could give that to us. The cliche “every little bit helps” really is the truth.

    Now, if I could just find someone willing to scoop the dog poo in the back yard, I’d be set!


  7. Leana May Says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 3:48 PM

    I was reading my new favorite book, “Ordinary Sparkling Moments” by Christine Mason Miller and I came across a passage that addressed exactly the issue you brought up eloquently. So here it is . . .”being told it is ok to receive freely and without guilt touches the most delicate place in our hearts, for hwen we are given permission to receive we are being told something else as well, something even more important that we are worthy and deserving of all the love and support we need. There are times in life when we are called upon to give and times when the world needs us to receive. We must offer ourselves in both arenas, knowing they each feed and inspire the world. We give, we take, we ask, we receive, and in all of these exhanges, we contribute.”

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