Asking for Help: A Toolkit for Cancer Support

As our nation eases restrictions on social distancing regulations, and we see our friends and family members begin to emerge from quarantine, we want to take a moment to speak to our community about the very frightening, very stark reality facing those of us in various stages of a cancer journey. For many of us, the grim reality of COVID-19 and the “new normal” presents a clear danger that hasn’t abated. According to the CDC, as recently as May 1, the national-level forecasts are predicted to rise significantly in the coming weeks ahead. Our economy is eager to reopen (and we are yearning to see it thrive once again), but our disease hasn’t disappeared simply because we want it to go away.

Because so many of our close friends are ready for things to go back to normal, it can feel uncomfortable to remain cautious and socially isolated. We understand. Here is a toolkit designed to enable anyone in our community facing cancer, who may be immunocompromised, or who may be in close contact with a loved one who is fighting an illness. 

Asking For Help | Basic Tips

Staying at home and flattening the curve was a remarkable show of solidarity that will go down in history as one of our proudest moments. And staying inside continues to be one of the safest decisions we can make. So, why not ask our friends who are stepping outside to help us so that we can remain safe? Well, it’s not so easy. According to M. Nora Klaver, author of “MayDay! Asking for Help in Times of Need,” most of us simply have never been taught how to do it properly. The so-called “simple” act of requesting assistance can make some of us feel awkward, needy, and uncomfortable. We might be used to being the “go-to” helper ourselves, or dislike needing to lean on others, appearing vulnerable. But, with COVID-19 likely to spread at a higher rate now that more people are out and about, we simply have to learn how to take care of ourselves. When asking for help, remember to:

  • Give people specific tasks or roles to complete, instead of being vague.
  • Let people help when they offer - our first instinct may be to turn down offers out of politeness.
  • Be honest about what we need.
  • Set boundaries (“I appreciate the help, but I’m unwilling to break our social distancing rules at this time.”)
  • Reach out to multiple groups simultaneously (work colleagues, church, neighbors, online friends.)

Out and About

When it is absolutely necessary, we need to have a plan in place to travel. For those of us who live alone, are remote, or may need to find transportation services to and from the doctor, for example, this is an uncertain time. Here are resources to help:

  • Lyft rideshare COVID-19 information
  • Uber rideshare safety updates
  • CDC safe travel guidelines within the US
  • Anticipate food and water needs before you go out, to reduce unnecessary stops 
  • Plan ahead and book accommodations in advance

Treatment and Health

While the imminent threat of the virus itself is certainly scary enough, for those of us in treatment for, or recovering from, breast or any other type of cancer, we are facing extra pain and hardship. Fortunately, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, many chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer do not necessarily increase the risk of catching COVID-19. However, many healthcare professionals are limiting and even restricting access to services such as mammograms, scans, check-ups, and routine office visits to reduce the risk of exposure to patients. While it is disheartening to postpone treatment, staying home - for now - is recommended. 

  • If we need to see a doctor, but it isn’t serious, Yale Medicine recommends Telehealth.
  • Communicate with your doctor to ensure you have a plan.
  • As always, follow the advice of your healthcare provider.

Basic Essentials

As frustrating as it may be, our day-to-day lives move on (even though they feel somewhat paused). Buying essentials like bathroom supplies, cooking and grocery items, and getting our prescriptions filled can put us at risk. Still, we can:

  • Create an online list of essentials with a shared google doc, and ask friends to drop them off when they are out.
  • Ask delivery drivers to leave packages on our porch, otherwise known as “touchless delivery,” to reduce interactions.
  • Consider a grocery delivery service like:
  • Buy household items from,, (Unfortunately almost every major online retailer is experiencing delays in shipping home essentials, cleaning supplies, and basics. But it will get better.)

Staying the Course

Even though it feels like there are mixed messages coming at us (and contradicting each other) all of the time (Things are improving! We’re open! Cases are rising!), we know that keeping a distance of six feet, washing our hands (for at least twenty seconds), and asking for help from our support network will keep us safe. Our health is important enough to take seriously, and that means it’s important enough to reach out for support. In a time when we’re being called to come together as a community, you might even be surprised how good it makes people feel to lend a helping hand.

“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it's at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.” -Audrey Hepburn