Carers often provide practical care. This can include preparing meals, doing household chores and providing transport. If the person you care for has difficulty moving around because of the cancer or treatment side effects, you may have to make some changes to the home.
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Treatment can weaken the body’s immune system, so it is important to follow good hygiene and food safety practices. Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food, and take special care when handling raw meat, fish and chicken.
You may notice the person you care for is experiencing changes in appetite or difficulties chewing and swallowing. They may feel nauseated (with or without vomiting), or they may have mouth or throat sores that make it painful to eat. Cancer treatment can also change the taste and smell of food.
At times, the person may not be able to eat even their favourite foods. While you may want them to eat well during treatment, focusing on their appetite can increase their anxiety, so gentle encouragement is best. Talk to the treatment team if you’re worried about weight loss.
Nausea and poor appetite can last for several months after treatment ends. A dietitian, doctor or nurse can provide advice on a suitable eating plan and medicines that can help manage side effects such as nausea or sores in the mouth.
Family and friends often offer to help by preparing meals. Let them know what types of food to prepare, and why hygiene and food safety are especially important at this time. Use online tools such as Meal Train and the CanDo app to help coordinate meal giving.
Managing the home environment
If the person you are caring for becomes unwell or frail during treatment, you may need to make some changes to their home to make it safer for them to do everyday activities such as self care and to prevent falls.
This may include small adjustments such as moving furniture to make access easier, removing loose rugs and other tripping hazards, putting handrails on the stairs or in the bathroom, or putting a chair in the shower.
Talk to the occupational therapist or physiotherapist on the treatment team about aids or equipment you can buy or rent. For example:
- bed or chairs
- commodes, bedpans and urinals
- bathing equipment
- mobility equipment such as four-wheeled walkers, pick-up frames or walking sticks
- cart with wheels to carry things.
If you need to lift the person you’re caring for, or help them get into or out of bed or a chair, ask a physiotherapist to show you how to do so safely. They can suggest equipment you can use to make lifting easier.
You can ask family and friends for help with housework or arrange help through community services. This will free up time for you to spend on caring or other responsibilities. Talk to the social worker on the treatment team or get in touch with Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out how to access this support.
Providing personal care
A person may need help with bathing, toileting and dressing at various times during and after the course of treatment. There are aids or equipment available to make bathing and going to the toilet easier.
If treatment means the person has trouble with incontinence (accidental loss of urine or faeces), talk to a continence nurse or physiotherapist for exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles or about protective bed covers and pads. You can also call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.
Some carers feel uncomfortable providing personal care themselves, particularly for their parents or adult children. Or the person with cancer may prefer that a professional assists with daily personal tasks. To find out how to arrange visits from care workers to help with these tasks, talk to the social worker on your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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.
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