Caring for someone with cancer
You may be reading this because you are caring for someone with cancer. What this means for you will vary depending on the situation. Being a carer can bring a sense of satisfaction, but it can also be challenging and stressful.
It is important to look after your own physical and emotional wellbeing. Give yourself some time out and share your concerns with somebody neutral such as a counsellor or your doctor, or try calling Cancer Council 13 11 20. There is a wide range of support available to help you with both the practical and emotional aspects of your caring role.
Support services – Support services such as Meals on Wheels, home help or visiting nurses can help you in your caring role. You can find local services, as well as information and resources, through the Carer Gateway. Call 1800 422 737.
Support groups and programs – Many cancer support groups and cancer education programs are open to carers as well as to people with cancer. Support groups and programs offer the chance to share experiences and ways of coping.
Carers Associations – Carers Australia works with the Carers Associations in each state and territory to provide information and services to carers. Call 1800 242 636.
Ways carers can help
There are many ways to show your concern or offer support to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer.
- Offer to go with them to appointments – You can join in the discussion, take notes or simply listen.
- Become informed – Learn about the cancer and its treatment. This will help you understand what the person is facing, but be careful about offering advice.
- Don’t be afraid to say nothing – The silence might feel awkward, but simply being close to the person or holding their hand also shows you care and provides comfort.
- Try not to do too much or take over – Give the person the opportunity to do things for themselves to maintain a sense of normality and independence. They may appreciate the chance to be useful and connected to activities they enjoy, such as reading to the kids, even if they can’t do as much physically.
- Provide practical help – Take the kids to school, cook a meal, help with the house or garden, or offer to drive them to appointments. You don’t have to do it all yourself – accept offers of help from family and friends.
- Look after yourself – Give yourself time to rest, as well as time away from the person with cancer. They probably would also appreciate some time alone. You need to look after your health if you’re going to give support. Don’t underestimate the emotional impact of supporting someone through cancer.
- Focus on other things – Make time to watch your favourite sport or TV show together, play a card or board game, or go on an outing together.
- Listen to their concerns – Try to understand their feelings and perspective about treatment, side effects, finances and the future.
- Talk honestly about your feelings – Try not to change the subject if it gets uncomfortable. Instead, share how you feel and respect each other’s feelings.
- Be around – Your presence will help them feel less isolated and let them know you care. If you are not there in person, check in by phone, text or email.
For more on this call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Carers.
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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