Learning to Accept Help When You Have Breast Cancer

Dee Casapulla was her family’s superhero until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here’s how she learned to slow down and focus on her health.

Denise (Dee) Casapulla, 54, knows just how much work it takes to keep a household running. Whether it’s staying on top of tasks such as cleaning and grocery shopping, overseeing the kids’ schedules and activities, or managing the family’s free time, research shows these responsibilities often fall on the woman.

But a breast cancer diagnosis changes things, as Dee can attest. After she was diagnosed in June 2023, Dee realized cancer requires you to lean on others for help.

When Breast Cancer Causes a Role Reversal

Before she had breast cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in women, Dee felt like the superhero of her household. She hit the ground running each morning with a workout before getting ready and heading to her job as a pharmacist.

“I was very much go, go, go,” says Dee. And as a mom of two daughters in their twenties, she was always checking in and making sure everyone was okay. “If somebody needed my help, I was there.”

But breast cancer forced her to slow down and lean on her loved ones instead.

“This was a total role reversal for me,” she says. “I had to start to think about me and my healing. And I was not used to that. I always worried about everyone else.”

Learning to Let Go and Accept Help

Dee’s diagnosis meant she had to learn to accept help from others, which wasn’t easy. “It made me feel very vulnerable,” she says.

But her husband and daughters stepped up every day to help fill the gap. From smaller tasks (refilling her water bottle, helping her put on socks) to larger household chores (cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry), they were always there for her.

“Even though she was very grateful and thankful, I think it really bothered her that she couldn’t do those things,” recalls her older daughter, Alex.

But in reality, “It took so much pressure off of me,” says Dee. “I could just focus on healing.”

Outside of hands-on help, Dee’s family offered emotional support, too. “They would encourage me to keep going when there were times I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” she says.

Reaching Out to Your Larger Community

Dee got support not only from her family but also her community.

People would call, asking if the family wanted or needed anything, recalls her husband, Steve. He would often turn down help, feeling they didn’t deserve it.

“The outpouring of generosity was overwhelming sometimes,” he says. “Don’t think you don’t deserve it. You do deserve it. You’re going through a lot.”

Dee couldn’t believe the way her community stepped up to help. “People would do [things] for me without even asking,” she says. “They would just jump in. I never had to say a word.”

Extended family, friends, and neighbors pitched in by making and delivering meals, offering transportation to and from treatment, and taking time to keep Dee company, such as going on walks together. Her pharmacy customers sent get well cards and gifts. “That takes time, that takes effort,” she says, appreciatively. “It was beautiful.”

Reframing Your Mindset

Before her diagnosis, Dee measured her worth by her ability to stay on task and keep the family running. “What I did was my value, and if I’m not doing it anymore, then what is my value to the family?” she’d ask herself. “What did I bring to the table besides a cancer diagnosis and a lot of hardship?”

But when her family, friends, and neighbors showed up with unwavering compassion and support, it helped her see things more clearly. “I had to let go to understand my worth,” she says. “It’s not in the things I do, but in who I am.”

How to Recognize Your Value and Ask for Help

It’s normal for women to feel like the glue that keeps their family together. But when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, stepping back and leaning on others can help you get through treatment, says Carmen Morales, LCSW-R, a social worker at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City. “There has to be a bit of a shift in refocusing that strength and independence. That’s still there. It just has to be applied differently.”

Not to mention, most people in your life want to help but don’t know how, says Mary Dev, a senior social work counselor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “Oftentimes, your people are just waiting on the sidelines. They don’t want to be intrusive. But the willingness to help is there.”

Use these tips to ask for (and receive) help in meaningful ways, so you can focus on yourself:

  • Lean on your support system. Balancing doctor’s appointments, treatment, and side effects can be taxing on its own. So asking others to pitch in with day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, and laundry, can help you focus on healing.
  • Be specific about your needs. “It could be, ‘My trash needs to go to the curb’ or ‘On Tuesday my kid needs to be picked up from the soccer game,’” says Dev. Keep in mind, these requests that may be a big help to you may not actually be that big for others, she adds.
  • Ask for company. You don’t have to go through this alone. Chances are, the people in your life are willing to accompany you to doctor’s visits or rounds of treatment. You can also ask them to stay while you rest up, as fatigue is common during breast cancer treatment. And while taking time to rest may mean stepping back from household duties, it’s important for your healing journey.
  • Meet with a social worker. A breast cancer diagnosis can come with a range of emotions, and it’s normal to avoid opening up, so you don’t overwhelm those closest to you, says Morales. But connecting with a social worker to talk through your raw emotions can help you process what you’re going through without worrying about how it’s affecting the listener.
  • Don’t wait to reach out. “The people who ask for help early on actually do better [in the long run] than people who don’t ask for help,” says Dev. While breast cancer can be an isolating experience, “Most people feel more supported when they get help.”
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Resources

  • Cerrato J et al. Gender Inequality in Household Chores and Work-Family Conflict. Frontiers in Psychology. August 2, 2018.
  • Key Statistics for Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. January 17, 2024.
  • Leitenberger A. How to Accept and Ask for Help When Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer. Breastcancer.org. August 16, 2023.
  • Balancing Responsibilities and Self-Care With Metastatic Breast Cancer. Breastcancer.org. August 16, 2023.
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