Living alone with cancer - Maggie's Centres

Living alone

If you have cancer, and live alone, you may be worried how you’ll manage. It can feel daunting when newly diagnosed, and planning treatment, even if you’re normally independent and able to cope.

You’re not the only one in this situation – about one in four people diagnosed with cancer live alone.

It does take some extra planning, and working out who can support you, but the situation is manageable. Letting your healthcare team know early on, that you’re living on your own, can help them work out how best to support you.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about living alone with cancer. We’ll focus on ways to help you maintain your independence and manage the day to day aspects of your treatment, including how Maggie’s can support you.

Receiving the news that you have cancer is often a big shock, whether you live alone or not. However, on top of all the information you’re trying to absorb about your cancer and its treatment, you may be worried about how you will manage.

Emotionally, it can feel a lonely time - no matter how independent you are. You may live near family and friends who care about you – but yet still feel lonely. There are others among you, who may not have close social and family networks. You too may be trying to get your head round your cancer diagnosis, negotiate appointments, deal with treatments, and think about the ‘what if’s’ and emotional issues totally on your own.

It is estimated that about one in four people diagnosed with cancer each year live alone.  Having cancer and treatments can feel a worry when you’re on your own, so it is a time to reach out for support from friends, family and your healthcare team.  

There will be key points as you go through your treatment, and beyond, where others can step in and help.  You can also plan for days when you’re not feeling well, and think of people you may need to call if you’re having a tough day, physically, practically or emotionally.

Coping with cancer when you live alone

Living alone has already given you skills and coping strategies that you can tap into, although at first it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Here are some tips and ideas to help:-

  • It is helpful to take someone with you to your appointmentsThere is often a great deal of information to absorb, and having someone alongside can help keep notes and ask questions.
  • Talk to family, friends and colleagues about your cancer diagnosis:This can be difficult if you’re quite a private person, but once they know, you will have a source of help and support. Find out who you can put down as emergency contacts, whilst you’re on treatment.
  • Let your healthcare team know that you live alone: Explain any concerns you may have about managing during treatment, and ask what support they can give. Sometimes some of the hospital procedures will mean that you’ll need to have someone with you for 24 hours afterwards. Work out with your healthcare team how this can be managed.
  •  Accept offers of help: Cancer treatment is manageable, in many cases, even when you live alone. However, accept  and ask for help, and plan tasks those people can take on. It might be visiting, helping with meals, driving you to and from hospital, picking up prescriptions, etc. When people know what it is that they can do to help, they can feel more focused.
  • Prepare as much as you can, before treatment starts: Have a list of important phone numbers in your mobile, or by the house phone. Prepare food for the freezer, and/or have a stock of good quality ready meals available. If you have a friend or family member who can stay, the first couple days of treatment, that may feel reassuring.
  • Ask about the local voluntary help available in your area: Many areas now run a good neighbour scheme, offering practical help for people who live alone. They may be able to help with shopping, collecting prescriptions, pet care and transport.
  • If you’re working, explain to your employers and colleagues what is happening: You may be worried about finances, as someone who lives alone. There are allowances and grants available to help.  Sometimes the array of forms and information can feel a lot to take in. You can drop into your local Maggie’s Centre, and ask to speak to one of our benefits advisors,  as well as read through our information online.
  • Emotionally, living alone with cancer can feel isolating at times. Social isolation at a time when you’re feeling unwell, can make you feel more vulnerable. If you’re a user of social media, or talk with friends regularly on the phone, it may help you feel more connected. 
  • Maggie’s is a good place to seek both practical and emotional support. This means you’re taking control, helping yourselves and those around you get through the cancer experience, and finding out what the new ‘normal’ might be. You can also join in on our online forums, and blogs, where other people can offer support and encouragement.

When to ask for further help

Cancer treatment can be exhausting, and there may be times when living alone with cancer is a challenge. If you start finding things difficult to manage on your own, do let your GP and healthcare team know.  They may be able arrange more support so that you can still manage at home.

Living alone with cancer can feel lonely and isolating at times. You may find your emotions are affected - sometimes people experience low mood, feel withdrawn, or worry about managing day to day. If you’re finding that you are feeling depressed or anxious do talk with your doctor or specialist nurse as they can offer support and may refer you for counselling. You can also drop into any Maggie's centre and  talk with our cancer support specialists and psychologists.

What now?

Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone. 

Call into your local Maggie's  and join our conline forums to talk with cancer support specialists and to connect with others in a similar position to yourself.

Find a centre

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Get in touch

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.
Sign up