I’ve always had a tough time asking for help. Honestly, until my cells went rogue, I hadn’t had many reasons to do so, especially when it came to taking care of my daughter. Prior to my diagnosis, I had taken her to and from school every day, volunteered at school as much as possible, and been there for every major event in her life. In addition to caring for my daughter, I had obligations outside of our home. The prospect of piling cancer treatments on top of my existing responsibilities was overwhelming. Accepting help from my community brought sanity to an otherwise chaotic situation.

Mel’s mom visited as often as possible to spend time with her family and help in any way she could.

Cancer treatments are time-consuming, inconvenient, and often completely disruptive. They are also necessary for survival. In the weeks that followed my diagnosis, I met with doctors and specialists throughout the Puget Sound area nearly every day. I began chemotherapy almost immediately, and couldn’t drive for days after each infusion. My appointments began to conflict with my responsibilities and the consistency I had hoped to maintain in my daughter’s life seemed to evaporate.

My family did everything they could to support me. My husband drove our daughter to and from school on days that I couldn’t make it. He accompanied me to some appointments, and took care of our daughter during others. He also continued to work his full-time job providing us with the income and health insurance necessary to pay for my care.

My mom visited from the east coast many times during my year of cancer treatments. She helped out around the house, took care of my daughter, and took me to chemotherapy and other appointments. She couldn’t go through my treatments for me, though I know she would have if given the choice, so she did the next best thing. She helped me conserve my energy for healing. Honestly, just having her with me made me feel better every day.

At first, I didn’t want to ask my community for help because I didn’t want to be a burden. Fortunately, my friends continued to offer their assistance and I learned to gratefully accept. They drove my daughter to or from school when my husband and I could not. They took over my volunteer work, both inside and outside of school, walked with me, and kept me connected to the happenings of daily life. My friend, Deb, quilted a blanket for me in my favorite colors to comfort me while I rested. I’m sure she spent more hours quilting than I did sitting in the infusion room.

Mel and her chemo angel, Vicki, pose on their way to chemotherapy just days before Vicki shaved Mel’s head.

My friend, Vicki, was my chemo angel. I can honestly say that my cancer experience would have been vastly different without her. She took me to the majority of my 16 chemo appointments and found hilarious shows for us to binge watch while I received my infusions. Her conversation and superb program selection helped distract me from the malaise of chemotherapy. As odd as this may sound, she made chemo day fun. Beyond chemo, she brought me to more appointments than I can count and was always there for me when I needed her. She even shaved my head when my hair started to fall out. Now that’s friendship.

My most heartwarming source of support was my daughter. When I was first diagnosed, I worried that my illness would ruin her childhood. While it wasn’t the happiest year of her life, I’m proud to say that she rose to the occasion and became my biggest champion. By helping me and herself, and rolling with the punches, she became independent and resilient. It was one of the silver linings in our cloudy sky.

Cancer affected my life in many ways, but not all of them were negative. Accepting help was the first of many positive lessons that I would learn during my cancer experience.

Melanie Kallas Ricklefs is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. She is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in April 2016. She underwent chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation to find her way back to health. Melanie has always enjoyed working and playing outdoors. You can find her and her family hiking, biking, kayaking, backpacking, and camping throughout the Pacific Northwest. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Forest Biology from the University of Vermont, and a Master of Science in Forest Pathology from Colorado State University.  To read more of Melanie’s articles related to cancer, click here.

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