Asking for Help... Why We Hate It.

It’s a thing you’re supposed to do when you have blood cancer. The only problem is most of us would rather be trapped next to an Instagram model on a flight to Australia than speak those words, “Can you help me?” Unfortunately, it’s a skill that must be mastered because no one can do it alone, especially if “it” is blood cancer.

Can't do blood cancer alone

As many of you know, not only did I go through lymphoma, but I also suffered from almost three decades of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic illness, before that. In fact, the doctors think the two might even be cause and effect… sorta, probably, maybe, possibly, kinda.

In other words, it’s an educated guess in a field that consists of mainly wild guesses worthy of a 6th grader who forgot to study for their history test. “The Spanish Armada?” “The question was who fought in the civil war….”   Anyhoo, despite the cause, I was no stranger to illness when cancer came calling so you’d think I’d have mastered the art of asking for help by then. Well, you’d have thunk wrong. Thank wrong? Thinked wrong. Yup.

Asking for help and self-worth

Why do many of us feel so uncomfortable asking for help? Well, I think there are several reasons. First and foremost is that in some ways it makes us feel like we are failing at the simple task which is put before most humans and that is to be a self-sufficient, contributing member of society. Now I know, before you even say it, “there are different ways to contribute,” “sick doesn’t mean useless,” and “everyone does what they can.”

I’ve heard them all and I don’t disagree, but getting your subconscious to believe something isn’t as easy as reading a “Hang in there, baby!” cat poster on the office wall. Subconscious.. esses.. need much more convincing before they will believe a thing. Think about how long it took your in-laws to warm up to you, that’s about on the same level (some of you are still trying to climb that particular hill I’ll bet). Especially for those whose self-worth is hopelessly entangled with working and productivity, asking for help only highlights the fact you can’t do it yourself.

Reality vs. positive outlook

Next, I think asking for help makes us face the reality of the situation. When you have lymphoma or leukemia or any type of cancer, something they stress is that you have to keep a positive outlook even when things look bleak. It’s not always easy and we frequently fail, but I mean, can you blame us? We do have cancer for God’s sake. The thing is there is a difference between not keeping a positive outlook and having the fact that we are seriously ill thrown in our face, and nothing does that more effectively than having to ask someone for help.

Needing help for basic tasks

It doesn’t make it better that usually said help is needed doing some of the most basic things a human can do - washing, going to the bathroom, eating - activities that even the least of us seem to be able to do alone with regularity. Nothing faces you with the stark reality of having cancer more than having to ask your spouse or parent or child to help you off the toilet. It’s humiliating, I’ll admit it, and it’s a slap right across the face with the fish of reality, and that’s one heck of a smelly, scaly, slap.

Taking care of business

Finally, I think asking for help is antithetical to those of us who feel like we are the ones who care take, we are the ones who fix things, we are the ones who take care of business. TCB! That’s me, baby. Some call it being “the alpha” but I don’t like that term because it insinuates the others are less than (beta has become somewhat of an insult among the younger generation) but it can be as simple as a father with cancer who has to ask a child for help - to some fathers that’s the opposite way life is supposed to work.

Whatever your thoughts on paternal obligation are, though, don’t dwell on the specifics, it’s just an easy example. If you are the person in your family or social group who always makes the plans or hosts the events, asking for help can be a signal that you are no longer capable of being at the head of the table, so to speak, and that can make some people extremely uncomfortable.

Everyone needs help sometime

“Can you help me?” Four words that are as difficult to say as, “really, this never happens,” or “it’s really not contagious,” or “wait… your second murder?” We just have to remind ourselves that everyone needs help sometimes, even those perfect people on your Facebook, and I can’t think of a better reason to request assistance than cancer except maybe a shark attack. Talk soon.

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