Caring for someone with cancer

You may be reading this information because you are caring for someone with cancer. Being a carer can be stressful and cause you much anxiety. Try to look after yourself – give yourself some time out and share your worries and concerns with somebody neutral such as a counsellor or your doctor.

Many cancer support groups and cancer education programs are open to carers, as well as people with cancer. Support groups and some types of programs can offer valuable opportunities to share experiences and ways of coping.

Call 13 11 20 to find out more about different services and to request free information for carers.

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your loved one cope with their diagnosis and treatment:

  • Talk honestly about your feelings – Try not to change the subject if it gets uncomfortable. Instead, share how you feel.
  • Chat about other things – Dealing with cancer does not mean either of you have lost interest in your favourite sport or TV show.
  • Listen to their concerns – Try to understand their feelings and perspective about treatment, side effects, finances and the future.
  • Don’t be afraid to say nothing – The silence might feel awkward, but simply being close to the person or holding their hand also shows you care and provides comfort.
  • Become informed – Learn about the cancer and its treatment. This will help you understand what the person is facing. But be careful about offering advice.
  • Be around – They’ll feel less isolated and know you care. If you are not there in person, check in by phone, text or email.
  • Offer to go with them to appointments – You can take part in the discussion, take notes or simply listen.
  • Provide practical help – Take the kids to school, provide a meal, help with the house or yard, or offer to drive them to appointments.
  • Try not to do too much or take over – Give the person the opportunity to do things for themselves to maintain a sense of normality. They may appreciate the chance to be useful and connected to what is important, such as reading to the kids, even if they can’t do as much physically.
  • Keep them involved – Even if your family member or friend is in hospital or home in bed, they can still take part in discussions and make decisions about day-to-day life, such as what is happening at school or work.
  • Look after yourself – Give yourself time to rest as well as time away from the person with cancer. You need to look after your health if you’re going to give support. Don’t underestimate the emotional impact of supporting someone through cancer.

Changing roles and routines

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, family roles and routines can change. Don’t try to do everything you used to do. These tips may help you cope:

  • Relax housekeeping standards.
  • Prepare simpler meals.
  • Ask the children to help more around the house.
  • Accept offers of help, for example, with cooking shopping, transport and other household tasks.
  • Ask one person to coordinate help from family and friends.
  • Think about joining a support group – everyone needs support and groups are available for children, spouses and carers.

Support services such as Home Help, Meals on Wheels or visiting nurses can help you in your caring role. There are also many organisations that can provide you with information and support, such as Carers Australia, the national body representing carers in Australia. Call 1800 242 636 or visit or for more information.

This information was last reviewed in April 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Lisbeth Lane, Senior Clinical Psychologist, University of Wollongong, Wollongong Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Social Worker, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Megan Best, Palliative Care Physician, Greenwich Hospital, NSW; Deborah Ball, Coordinator of Direct Support Services, Cancer Council SA; Sandy Hutchison, Executive Manager, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council QLD; Jill Adams, RN, Helpline, Cancer Council WA; and Ksenia Savin, Cancer Connect Volunteer and Consumer, QLD.

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