- Cancer Information
- Supporting someone with cancer
- Caring for someone with cancer
- Your role as a carer
- Practical support
In this section, we discuss the type of practical support carers may provide.
Learn more about:
- Finding services that can help
- Preparing meals
- Managing the home environment
- Providing personal care
Carers often provide practical care. This can include cooking, doing household chores, driving the person to medical appointments, making the house safe, and helping with personal care.
But remember you don’t have to do it all – there are many support services that can help. The availability and wait times for services may vary depending on where you live, and some services will be free but others might have a cost. Talk to the treatment team about what support services are available or see the box below. You can also talk to family and friends about ways they can help.
Finding services that can help
- Carer Gateway provides information on local support services for carers and other support that may suit your needs – call 1800 422 737.
- Your local council or social worker can put you in touch with services for help at home (such as house cleaning, meals or shopping).
- Get in touch with Cancer Council 13 11 20 or talk to the treatment team to find out how to get support.
- Social work services are also available through Services Australia.
- If the person you are caring for is 65 or over (50 and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), contact My Aged Care for an assessment – call 1800 200 422.
- Learn more about some other sources of support.
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. If you are feeling unwell, ask a family member or friend to prepare meals instead.
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, focusing on their appetite can increase their anxiety, so gentle encouragement is best.
Nausea and poor appetite can last for several months after treatment ends. Talk to the treatment team if you’re worried about weight loss. 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 may offer to prepare meals. Let them know what types of food to prepare, and why food safety is especially important now. Use online tools such as Meal Train and CanDo app to help coordinate meal giving.
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, you may need to help them make changes to their home to make it safer for them to do everyday activities, care for themselves and prevent falls. This may include 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 may need and options to buy or rent. Examples include:
- hospital beds, pressure mattresses or lift chairs
- commodes, over toilet frames, bedpans and urine bottles
- bathing equipment, such as shower chairs or bath boards
- mobility equipment, such as 4-wheeled walkers, pick-up frames or walking sticks
- carts with wheels to carry things.
If the person you’re caring for needs help to get into or out of bed or a chair, ask a physiotherapist to show you how to do so safely. They can suggest equipment or techniques to help the person move.
You may also have to take on other family responsibilities, or arrange for someone else to take them on. These may include caring for children and parents, housework, gardening, shopping or looking after pets.
Providing personal care
A person may need help with bathing, toileting and dressing while you are caring for them. 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 about exercises the person can use 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, particularly for their parents or adult children. The person with cancer may also prefer that a professional helps with these tasks. To find out how to arrange visits from a professional, talk to a social worker on the treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20. You can also review the person’s insurance policies to see if they provide any benefits that may help with home care services.
Often it was the little practical suggestions that were the most helpful – such as getting a foam wedge to help my husband sleep.Anna
Podcast: Cancer Affects the Carer Too
Dr Alison White, Palliative Medicine Specialist, Royal Perth Hospital, WA; Tracey Bilson, Consumer; Louise Dillon, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Palliative Care Outpatients, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Katrina Elias, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW; Jessica Elliott, Social Worker, Youth Cancer Services, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Brendan Myhill, Social Worker and Bereavement Research Officer, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Penny Neller, Project Coordinator, National Palliative Care Projects, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Olivia Palac, Acting Assistant Director, Occupational Therapy, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Nicole Rampton, Advanced Occupational Therapist, Cancer Services, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Shirley Roberts, Nurse Consultant, Medical Oncology, Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre, SA; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner, and UNSW Research Fellow, NSW; Kathleen Wilkins, Consumer; Helen Zahra, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.