Tell me what you need: Asking for help from your caregivers

Tell me what you need: Asking for help from your caregivers

By Gabrielle Fecteau

As individuals living with cancer, we are often asked by our caregivers, friends and family, “Can I help?”, “How can I help?”, “Let me know if you need anything?” These questions trigger an automatic set of responses: “I am okay.” “No need for that.” “I will let you know if I need anything.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts, these offers rarely amount to any actions.

A few weeks ago, a fellow cancer-thriver of mine suggested a different scenario:

Caregivers, friends or family: “Tell me what you need from me.”

Individual living with cancer: “I need…”

This shift is important, not only from the caregiver’s perspective, but specifically from the point of view of the individual living with cancer.

If I had been honest during my experience with cancer, I would have needed help with many things. Some requests would have been bigger than others, as some days, I would have only needed a phone call. However, no matter how big or small the need, having someone who cares fill this need adds to one’s overall quality of life.

39 ways that others can help

My biggest challenge has been identifying my needs so I have therefore generated a list of 39 needs that you may identify with.

Needs related to daily living:

  1. I need a home-cooked or pre-cooked meal, preferably this meal.
  2. I need my house cleaned.
  3. I need help with chores.
  4. I need my grass cut/snow shovelled or yard work done.
  5. I need help with running a few errands.
  6. I need help with grooming (i.e. washing my hair, doing my hair, my makeup, etc.)

Needs related to medical responsibilities:

  1. I need someone to be on call for emergencies.
  2. I need a ride to my appointment or treatment (and to wait for me).
  3. I need help with organizing and keeping track of medications and self-administered treatments.
  4. I need someone to take notes during my appointments.
  5. I need help filling out paperwork (ex. unemployment, insurance claims).
  6. I need a drink and/or snack breaks during longer treatments.
  7. I need help with research around clinical trials, available services, etc.

Needs related to communication:

  1. I need someone to update everyone on my situation.
  2. I need to be updated on the life of those I love.
  3. I need a daily phone check in, even if just a few minutes.
  4. I need someone to listen, just listen.
  5. I need to brainstorm with someone, bounce ideas.
  6. I need help communicating my needs to my care team.

Needs related to connection:

  1. I need a night out (or in).
  2. I need to talk about anything other than cancer or health.
  3. I need help finding and connecting to a cancer peer.
  4. I need someone to accompany me to an event (and help me socialize).
  5. I need someone to represent me at this event.

Needs related to family life:

  1. I need someone to relieve my caregiver of their duties for a bit.
  2. I need help with childcare.
  3. I need someone to bring my parent/grandparent/child to their appointment or activity.

Needs related to self-care:

  1. I need help finding new clothes/accessories.
  2. I need time alone.
  3. I need someone to remind me that I am doing well and I am certainly the best I can.
  4. I need a journal/drawing book/etc.
  5. I need to be pampered for a day.
  6. I need someone to sit with me as I cry.

Needs related to having fun:

  1. I need a new playlist for treatments (or for life in general).
  2. I need a new puzzle or game and people to play with.
  3. I need someone to accompany me to a fun activity.
  4. I need to laugh with someone.
  5. I need a really good book—whichever book is your all-time favourite.
  6. I need a dance party with uplifting music.

BONUS: On a day when you feel up to it, ask a caregiver, family member or friend how you can help them. We always feel better when we give back. It doesn’t have to be anything big!

Keep a list of these and your other needs handy. You may also want to classify them in a way that makes sense to you and that increases the likelihood of you being able to identify and communicate your needs. For example, keeping a list of daily needs, or having an app/website keep track of your needs and allows for others to pick from ongoing list of needs.

Many smiles,


Our Partners