Iris Mini: Asking for What You Need

"Sometimes our own needs and desires must be expressed, even at the expense of shattering the image others have created of us." - Sean Wolfe

Cancer can take a big toll – physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and spiritually. Because of this, you may need more help and support than before cancer. Asking for and receiving help from others can be difficult – it can feel very vulnerable to ask for help. Commonly, people express worry about burdening others.

Identifying your needs is a process that takes time, and needs may change over time requiring re-examination.

Points to Remember About Needs

  • Identifying your needs is a process that takes time

  • Your needs may change over time

  • It is okay to change your mind about what you need

Communication Tips

  • Use yes, and; or no, but

    • Often when navigating social support and accepting help, it is helpful to think about communication templates. These help to soften communication that involves limits you need.

    • For example: YES, come visit AND I only have energy for 30 minutes. NO, I don't need a casserole BUT I could use a ride to the drugstore.

  • "I" statements

    • Many people feel nervous about asking for help. You can try an "I" statement such as, “I’m a little uncomfortable asking for help, but I was wondering if you might be able to do something for me.” This clearly communicates what you are feeling and allows the other person to better understand your perspective.

    • Attempt to communicate your needs and boundaries clearly. You can consider trying other phrases such as:

      • I need…

      • I wish it was different, but right now I need…

      • I am trying to take care of myself, and right now I need...

      • This is hard to ask, but I need…

  • Asking the Right Person for the Right Help

    • Part of successfully asking for and receiving help requires identifying the best person for the need. Consider these three types of helpers: do-ers, listeners, and respite. List each person in your support network and identify which type of helper they might be (they may be more than one). Consider the right fit for the type of support you are seeking.

      • Do-ers: helpers for practical tasks (pick up groceries, bring a meal, rides to treatment)

      • Listeners: helpers who can listen without trying to fix it or problem solve (unless asked) and provide emotional support 

      • Respite: helpers who are great at distraction and bringing fun 

Coordinating offers of help and support can add to cancer-related stress. Consider asking someone in your support network to help organize offers of assistance from others. You can also consider asking a support person to help in providing updates on your health and well-being.

Communication in Cancer Care (PDQ®) – Patient Version (National Cancer Institute)

Iris Mini: Social Support Strategies

Tools such as Lotsa Helping, and CaringBridge allow you to tailor communication and ask for, and update, specific needs as they arise.