- Cancer Information
- Caring for someone with cancer
- Your role as a carer
- Emotional support
An important part of the carer’s role can be to provide emotional support to the person with cancer.
You might find it challenging to talk to the person about their cancer diagnosis and treatment. This may be because you:
- fear saying the wrong thing
- don’t know what to say or how to respond
- feel you shouldn’t talk about the cancer
- don’t want to say something upsetting
- feel you have to be supportive and strong for the person with cancer, and worry you could break down.
Not everyone finds talking about what is happening helpful, and it’s important to respect this, but try to find ways to support each other. You can’t change the diagnosis, but listening to each other’s concerns can help.
During your role as a carer, there may be occasions when you don’t agree with the person you are caring for. Try to remember that it’s natural to have disagreements from time to time, especially when you’re both under stress. Although dealing with conflict can be challenging, it can also bring you closer together and help you understand each other’s point of view.
While you may be the primary source of emotional support, keep in mind that there may be family members, friends or health professionals who are able to contribute emotional support in different but valuable ways.
Learn more about:
Ways to be a good listener
- Sit somewhere private where you will not be interrupted.
- Signal that you are there for as long as needed, e.g. switch off your mobile phone.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Listen carefully to what may be behind the words. Try not to think about something else or plan what you will say next.
- Ask open questions to help you understand how they are feeling.
- Avoid interrupting or changing the subject.
- Allow the person to be sad, upset or cry. You don’t have to keep them happy all the time.
- Check your understanding of what they’ve said by repeating information or paraphrasing.
- Wait to be asked before giving advice.
- Respond to humour.
- Avoid filling the gaps in conversation. Silence can allow you both some time to gather your thoughts.
Ways to resolve conflict
- Let the other person know that you care about them and want to resolve your differences.
- Try to stay calm and talk through the issues. Hear each other out and work towards making a decision together. Sometimes people disagree because there has been a misunderstanding.
- Compare your expectations. For example, some people with advanced cancer choose to stop having treatment. You may find this hard to accept if you feel they are giving up and you want them to try other options.
- Choose your battles – it may help to focus your energy on the issues that really matter.
- If emotions become heated, call time out and arrange to talk later when you are both calmer.
- Consider taking a break and arranging other care for a time.
- Ask your GP or treatment team for a referral to a social worker, counsellor or psychologist who can help you resolve the conflict.
Tina Chivende, Social Worker, Cancer Psychosocial Service, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Gabrielle Asprey, Telephone Support Group Facilitator, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Ben Britton, Senior Clinical and Health Psychologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle and John Hunter Hospital, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, NSW; Valmai Goodwin, Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council QLD; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Zoe Mitchell, Senior Social Worker, Palliative Care, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Amber Rose, Consumer; Carolina Simpson, Policy and Development Officer, Carers NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads
Emotions and cancer
Suggestion for managing the physical effects of the diagnosis and coping with the diagnosis, as well as how to get support
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Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends