‘Help’ Seems to be the Hardest Word

Terry Murray shares helpful hints on how patients can ask family and friends for help.


My sister Roxe has always been generous to a fault. I’ve been a recipient of that generosity, as have her friends in need, friends on their birthdays and other holidays, and complete strangers such as the countless people behind her in the Tim Horton’s drive-thru whose coffees she paid for.

When she was diagnosed with metastatic endometrial cancer, I was happy to travel from my home in Toronto to hers in Ottawa to be with her for chemotherapy sessions and the days afterward. But for the times I couldn’t be with her, Roxe was reluctant to ask any of her friends or neighbours for help.

“What about asking someone for a drive to the hospital for a chemo session?” I suggested, knowing it would be a longish trip across town.

“It’s too far, too early in the morning and during rush hour,” Roxe said.

“What about asking someone to come and sit with you, after rush hour?” I said.

“I can’t ask someone to sit with me for five hours!” she said.

“You could ask them to sit with you for an hour,” I offered, to which Roxe just shrugged.

“What about groceries?” I continued.

“The store delivers,” she countered.

She was even exhorted by her doctors to enlist and accept the help of friends and neighbours. But we were all fighting a losing battle with my sister’s stubbornness.

And therein lies the problem: It’s not enough to urge people in similar situations to ask for help – it’s necessary to help them to ask for help.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.