Asking for Help: Lessons learned from my so-so odds at beating cancer

coin flipIt takes more than the luck of a coin flip to navigate life’s tricky waters.

Adapted from my ebook Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles, available as a free PDF download.

“Rare as hell,” my primary oncologist Dr. Lipton said as he reviewed the results of my latest bone marrow biopsy. My leukemia had gotten real aggressive, real quick, entering unexpectedly into what’s called the Blast Crisis phase. And while most of the medical mumbo jumbo I’d been bombarded with flew right over my head, I figured anything with a name like “Blast Crisis” couldn’t be a good thing. By the look on his face, Dr. Lipton was as stunned as I was at the latest development. He told me that in twenty years he’d only ever seen something like this happen once before.

Mama always told me I was special.

The medication I had been taking was no longer considered a viable long-term treatment option for me. Instead, I would need to blitzkrieg my body with months of powerful chemotherapy and radiation in an effort to pound the disease into remission. But even that wouldn’t keep the monster at bay. No, I’d need to rid myself of my defective bone marrow entirely and replace it through a risky stem cell transplant—assuming, of course, they could even find me a donor.

I worked up enough saliva in my mouth to croak out a question. “What are my odds?”

Dr. Lipton didn’t sugar-coat it. “Forty to 50 per cent.”

Hoo boy.

I returned home from my appointment with Dr. Lipton, shell-shocked. Forty to 50 per cent. A coin toss, really. With that in mind, I grabbed a quarter from the desk in my basement office. “Heads I live, tails I die” I said, flicking the coin into the air.

I caught the coin and held it under my sweaty palm on the back of my other hand. I held my breath and took a peek.

Heads. Phew.

Though thrilled to have Lady Luck on my side, I knew it would take more than a fortunate flip to get through this. There are times in life when going it alone isn’t an option. This was one of those times. To survive this bear hunt, I was going to need one hell of a team.

And it wasn’t just my doctors. I soon realized I required a whole army of supporters. My parents. My brothers and sisters. My friends. The nurses on Floor 15. My pharmacist. Nutritionists, social workers, chaplains, physical therapists, counsellors. Hell, even my dog Stockie would play a key role.

Moral of the story

Simple(ton) Living by Josh MartinNo one is an island. There is strength in numbers. Two heads are better than one. Whatever your preferred cliché, overcoming obstacles happens by having the right people by your side.

I would have to choke down a lot of big, nasty pills during my treatment. But the toughest pill to swallow was giving up my independence and asking for help. I hated putting my family and friends through this. Worse still, I hated the idea of being a burden. But as time went by and as the treatment took its toll, I would have to accept that I did in fact need help.

I also started to better understand that I wasn’t being a burden—that my family and friends were desperate to help. When you’re facing an obstacle, the feeling of helplessness can be crushing not just for you, but for your family and friends as well. Letting loved ones chip in, even if you might not think you need it, can be as much a gift to them as to you.

It took a while to be okay with it, but eventually I allowed myself to share my heavy load. Friends and family graciously offered to help out with household chores, rides to and from my appointments and other everyday necessities so I could focus on getting better.

No matter who you are, there will be times when your motivation flags, when everything that needs doing overwhelms you or when you can’t see the way forward. At those times, you’ll need to lean on the strengths and support of others.

Indeed, as I packed my bag for my month-long stay at the hospital to kick off my chemotherapy protocol, I was grateful to have more than a coin flip to count on.

Who’s on your team? Take some time to identify some of the key players who can help you on your own bear hunt. Who do you know who can provide you with motivation? Expertise? Distraction? A listening ear? On the flip side, who’s getting in your way of achieving your goals? Be mindful of negative people who might be draining your mojo.

Once you’ve identified your players, talk to them. Whether you formally invite them to be part of your journey is up to you, but it’s important to know who you can turn to when confronted with an obstacle.

Want more? Download Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles for free.

Josh Martin
Josh Martin is the founder and chief blogger at Badge of Awesome. He lives in southwestern Ontario, Canada and is the author of "Misadventure Musings: Lessons learned from life's awesome and absurd moments" and "Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles."