- Cancer Information
- Supporting someone with cancer
- Caring for someone with advanced cancer
- What does advanced cancer mean for carers?
What does advanced cancer mean for carers?
Although advanced cancer is unlikely to be cured, it can often be managed, sometimes for years. Even so, caring for someone with advanced cancer can feel overwhelming.
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When cancer won’t go away
Some people’s cancer may be advanced when they are first diagnosed. For others, the cancer may have spread or come back (recurred) after treatment. Advanced cancer means the cancer is unlikely to be cured, but it can often be managed.
Some people live with advanced cancer as a chronic illness for many years, so there may not be much difference in your caring role immediately. For others, your responsibilities as a carer are likely to increase and may become more complex almost overnight. This may give you little time to adjust to the new situation.
Caring for someone with advanced cancer can feel overwhelming. You may be trying to support the person, while coming to terms with the diagnosis yourself. You may be experiencing a range of strong emotions such as denial, fear, anger, sadness and grief. A diagnosis of advanced cancer also means living with uncertainty about what lies ahead, and this can be challenging.
As well as having to manage your own emotions, you may also have to tell other family members and friends. This can be time-consuming and difficult, and their reactions may add to your distress. Use text messages, email, blogs or social networking sites, or write one letter and send copies to people. If you need support, talk to your GP or the hospital social worker, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Palliative Care Australia also has a range of useful resources.
Avoiding carer burnout
Caring for a person with advanced cancer can be physically and emotionally demanding.
Now more than ever, it is important to look after your own wellbeing (see some tips in Caring for yourself).
Stress or distress that lasts a long time can lead to carer burnout. This can show in physical and emotional ways.
If you are experiencing mood swings, irritability, sleep problems, changes in appetite, overwhelming fatigue or other signs of stress for more than two weeks, or if you are relying on alcohol or other drugs, talk to your GP or the social worker on the palliative care team.
After a diagnosis of advanced cancer, some people want to find out how long they have left to live, while others prefer not to know. It’s a very personal decision.
If the person you are caring for prefers not to know, you may still want some idea of their prognosis to help you plan ahead. You can ask the person if they can give their treatment team permission to speak to you alone.
The health professionals may give you a general idea of the person’s life expectancy. This is known as the prognosis and it is likely to sound a bit vague, such as months to many months, weeks to months, or days to weeks. The actual time could be shorter or longer, because each individual responds differently to treatment.
Podcast: Caring for Someone with Advanced Cancer
Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anne Booms, Nurse Practitioner – Supportive and Palliative Care, Icon Cancer Centre Midland, WA; Dr Erica Cameron-Taylor, Staff Specialist, Department of Palliative Care, Mercy Hospice, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Louise Good, Cancer Nurse Consultant, WA; Verity Jausnik, Senior Policy Officer, Carers Australia; David Larkin, Cancer Supportive Care Manager, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital and Health Service, ACT; Kate Martin, Consumer; John McMath, Consumer; Simone Noelker, Physiotherapist and Wellness Centre Coordinator, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dean Rowe, Consumer; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.