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After losing her husband to cancer, Karen was given her own diagnosis. This got her through.

Karen and her two sons have faced their fair share of crises. When Karen’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, they watched his treatment fail and felt the full force of grief that followed his passing.

Then in 2016, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer, leaving her at a loss as to how she would be able to continue to raise her boys on her own while navigating treatment.

“I didn’t know how I was going to be affected by the chemo and radiation… I knew I just had to get through the treatment,” she told Mamamia.

Unfortunately Karen was all too familiar with the challenges of maintaining some semblance of normality when cancer threatened to tear life apart. But there was one resource Karen’s family were able to access this time around that made coping just that bit easier.

roster for helping sick friends
Karen and her two sons. (Image: Supplied)

Created by psychologist, Dr Susan Palmer, Gather My Crew is the free online rostering system helping families like Karen's going through rough times ask for and receive the help they really need.

After supporting patients and families in coming to terms with some of the toughest of circumstances for almost 20 years, Susan realised there was a gap between the advice she was giving, and the action being taken that needed to be bridged.

"Having worked with people going through really difficult times -  in oncology wards, with people with spinal injuries and parents who find out their children have congenital conditions - it's my job to help them understand that getting through something as awful as this is so much easier if you're surrounded by friends and family getting the practical help that you need," Susan told Mamamia.

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"I found myself in a position of realising we as clinicians have this assumption that people are and were doing this for themselves, when really they're probably just too overwhelmed to ask for the help they need."

"It's my job to help them understand that getting through something as awful as this is so much easier and more possible if you're surrounded by friends and family." (Image: Supplied)

It wasn't until Susan herself experienced first hand the complexities of caring for someone in crisis with a mother of twins in her daughter's school class that she knew she could create a better way for people going through hard times to get help from their loved ones that would actually make a difference on their circumstances.

"With [Susan's friend's] husband having used up all his carers leave and her family living overseas, she didn't have a lot of support," Susan explained.

"She didn't know what to do or how to even begin that process of seeking help, so I decided to send an email to the class list. I had 30 people wanting to help her and then a list as long as my arm of things she needed.

"Once I realised how much of a huge task facilitating that amount of people against someone's needs is - it's almost a full time job - I knew there must be a better way of doing things. So that's what I did."

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A free tool anyone can access, Gather My Crew works by acting as the middle man between a person in need and their 'crew' of people wanting to help, but perhaps aren't sure how.

Once a person registers their own account on the website, they are able to click through to the online app and select from hundreds of things they might need help with to keep life on track for their family through their crisis. These are curated by people who've been there along side trained medical clinicians like Susan.

Going far deeper than a generic meal roster some may have used before, the person is able to choose from everyday things we take for granted like school pickups and drop offs, laundry, changing the sheets, and transport to and from hospital, to the little things such as weekend activities for the kids that makes maintaining normalcy possible.

Once a person has selected all the various things they need help with, they are then able to invite family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances to join their crew and take ownership of tasks that suit their capabilities and schedule.

From there, Gather My Crew acts like a calendar, sending reminders to helpers when their tasks are coming up, taking the burden off the person in need completely.

Gather My Crew works by acting as the middle man between a person in need and their 'crew' of people wanting to help, but perhaps aren't sure how. (Image: Supplied)

"So many people told me, 'let me know what we can do' and of course I didn't know, I had no idea where to start," Karen said of going through her breast cancer treatment.

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"In the past when we were in crisis [during Karen's husband's treatment] we had a meal roster because I knew getting dinner on the table for my sons was important, but this time when I logged on [to Gather My Crew] and saw the list of options, I thought, yeah I do need help with all that too.

"Even people that aren't your closest friends, they hear about your situation but they don't want to make anyone feel embarrassed. [Gather My Crew] puts a computer screen between us and breaks down the barrier, it helped me stop thinking anything was too big an ask."

While Karen loved receiving flowers and lovely home cooked meals from people who wanted to help her in some way, having physical assistance with the other tasks like getting linen washed once a week, driving the boys to their school sport or helping them with her homework - all things she became unable to do throughout her treatment - was the best help she could have received.

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Not knowing what you're going to actually need was just one aspect Susan identified people in crisis didn't understand. But it was observing their inability to seek that help from the people in their lives who wanted to give it the most that formed her service's foundation.

"In two weeks time, someone going through chemo might not know they won't be able to clean the toilet because the drugs make them feel so sick," she said.

"At a time when you need help and you're feeling befuddled, people are scared to ask for it. But people are good, and if you ask for help, they often say yes because they want to look after others.

"Not all help is helpful - people often turn up with 20 lasagnas and it's so well meaning and they are desperately trying, but what the person might really need is for someone to take them to the hospital or drop off bread and milk so they have something for breakfast the next morning.

"With Gather My Crew, we're turning that 'not helpful' help into the really good stuff that'll make a difference."

Gather My Crew is a not-for-profit charity and anyone who needs it is able to access their online system for free. If you would like more information on how Gather My Crew could benefit your life or someone's you know, please visit the Gather My Crew website.

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