As a carer, you may experience a range of emotions, from feelings of loss, to depression. It may help you to talk to someone else about sensitive topics like death and dying, and changes to relationships.
Some common topics that you may need to address during these challenging times are:
Seeing a counsellor, social worker or psychologist can help you better deal with the emotional strain you may face as a carer for someone with advanced cancer.
Feelings of loss
You may grieve about how things used to be with the person you are caring for, or for your loss of time and ability to enjoy life as you used to. You may be starting to grieve the expected death of the person you are caring for. This is called anticipatory grief. Your emotions can cycle from feeling very caring and protective to feelings of anger and resentment about what you have lost or may lose.
Everyone deals with loss in their own way, but there are ways to feel more in control.
- Acknowledge your grief. It is alright to cry or feel angry at times.
- Ask family and friends for practical and emotional support.
- Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information about coping with loss and grief.
Providing ongoing care and support can be challenging, and some carers become depressed. If you find that you are not feeling any pleasure, that you are stressed, irritable or emotional almost all the time, or that you cannot sleep or have lost your appetite, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to counselling or prescribed medicines, if appropriate for your situation.
People with advanced cancer can also become depressed. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, suggest they see a counsellor or doctor. The beyondblue guide for carers includes information for carers of people living with depression.
Talking about death and dying
When cancer is advanced, family and friends may wonder if the person will die. This can be a frightening thought, and one that is often mixed with other feelings, such as anger, sadness or guilt.
Although most people are not comfortable talking openly about death and dying, it’s an important topic and an opportunity to discuss practical issues such as place of death.
Sometimes, knowing the person’s wishes can help you avoid regret or feelings of guilt later on. Palliative Care Australia’s Dying to Talk discussion starter can help you start a conversation.
Changes to relationships
For many carers, a diagnosis of advanced cancer can affect the established roles within a family, friendship or relationship. These changes may last for only a short time or be longer-lasting.
Cancer can strengthen a relationship or strain it. Try to be open and honest about your concerns. Before beginning a conversation, work out if it is a good time to talk. If you find it difficult to start this discussion or feel the person with cancer is avoiding the conversation, you could suggest you both talk with a counsellor.
You may find yourself thinking about how you will manage if the person with cancer dies. This is natural, but try not to exclude them from everyday events and decisions.
If people with cancer are physically able, they often prefer, or even need, to take on daily activities to help maintain their sense of independence. They don’t have to, and often don’t wish to, feel helpless.
How to find a counsellor
- Ask your GP for a referral to a counsellor, social worker or psychologist. The Better Access initiative allows GPs to refer people to psychologists or social workers for several free sessions. You could also see a private counsellor or psychologist for a fee.
- Call the National Carer Counselling Program on 1800 242 636. This offers short-term counselling and is run by your local Carers Association. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 – our oncology nurses can put you in touch with a counsellor who has oncology-related experience.