When someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer, you may feel shocked, upset and concerned. Whether you are a partner, family member, or friend, you’ll also recognise that your help may be needed.
The responsibilities of being a carer can feel both rewarding and worrying at the same time. There may be lots to sort out practically, and your own feelings and emotions can sometimes be sidelined.
The information on this page will help you to find out more about managing as a carer and discover ways to cope with emotions and practical issues this raises. This includes details of how Maggie’s can support you.
Cancer and carers
When someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a big shock. You may have confused feelings – upset and anxious yourself, but wanting to help where you can.
The term ‘carer’ describes the role taken on by partners, family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. It’s an unpaid role - vital for helping provide practical and emotional support when someone needs it most. Being a carer means different things to different people and is a broad term covering any caring role with the person who has cancer.
Being a carer can be both rewarding and stressful at the same time. You may be involved on a day to basis with the highs and lows of cancer and its treatments. It can be emotionally and physically draining, as you juggle other responsibilities like work, home and family - alongside your caring role. You may live some distance from the person with cancer and be unsure how to help.
It’s tempting to put your own feelings on hold, as you focus on the wellbeing of the person you care about. Sometimes you may feel guilty, angry, frustrated, anxious and tired. This is understandable - you’re only human, and there is a lot going on. It’s natural to be worried at times, about the uncertain future, and how you will cope as the care needs change.
As a carer, you’re a key part of the network looking after the person with cancer. Looking after yourself is important too. Finding out where and who can give you support, can help you day to day in your caring role.
Support and carers
Whether you are new to caring, or have been looking after someone with cancer for some time, there may still be days when you find things more challenging. Maggie’s offers support for carers in a number of ways.
Our tips for coping as a carer
- Build up your resource bank – who and what can help make your caring role more manageable? Find out who is able to offer practical help. Ask the healthcare professionals and GP what support is available and how you would get it.
- Be organised – there can be lots of things to coordinate when in the caring role. In the early days, it might be more to do with organising hospital appointments, collecting medications, transport, etc. Friends and family may be able to help out, but would need to know what they can do. Technology can help - phone apps, such as the ‘Jointly-app’ by Carers UK, helps you keep organised, delegate jobs and keep your circle of family and friends in the loop. You can also keep tabs on appointments, and home visits etc. Use the different skills of friends and family. Some may offer more practical support, whilst others may focus on emotional support.
- Find out about local volunteer groups who can help with practical tasks. These can include transport, respite care, personal care at home and home visits so that you can have a break. Your GP surgery and local carers groups will know what is available in your area.
- Talking helps – as a carer, you may be trying to be positive and upbeat, even when you are worried yourself. The stress of bottling up these emotions can build up. Finding someone to talk to about how you feel can ease the tension. It might be other family members, friends, colleagues or through support groups. Maggie’s offer a safe place to talk through the emotions you may be feeling, and you can meet other carers to share experiences.
- If you’re working, or a student, let your employers/tutors know what is happening – as a carer, you may need to have some flexibility about appointments, treatment days, etc. You also may find your concentration is not so good, which can sometimes affect your work. If your employers/tutors are aware of your home situation, they will hopefully be supportive and understanding.
- Money worries – when you’re caring for someone, both you and they may be worried about the financial impact of the cancer and its treatments. If you’re needing to become a full time carer for a while, that can mean a reduction in income. Maggie’s Centres have benefits advisors who can talk through your financial worries. We also have information and blogs here online to help you.
- Learn how to look after yourself – as a carer, there will be times when you feel stressed and anxious. Knowing how to relieve the stresses and strains, and how to relax, can ease the tension. Taking time out from the situation is important, if you can manage it. Having regular breaks, meeting up with others, and doing something for you, is helpful. Drop into Maggie’s and find out about our ‘Friends and family’ course, which teaches you how to relax and de-stress. You’ll also learn about cancer and treatments, as well as nutrition, helping you feel more in control.
- Look after your health – being a carer means you may be spending more time focusing on someone else, rather than yourself. You may find you feel tired, and perhaps sleeping less well. Sometimes meals get missed, and your own general health may be affected. Remembering to get your flu vaccination, eating regularly, taking exercise and fresh air when you can. Let your GP know if you are feeling unwell, and explain your caring responsibilities. Your nearest Maggie’s can offer relaxation, exercise, advice on healthy eating and support.
- Caring can be lonely – look into local carers support groups, and online forums, where you can share information, and experiences with other carers. Knowing that what you’re feeling is normal – and receiving the support of others can help relieve the isolation that caring sometimes brings. Maggie’s run carers support groups, or you may prefer to drop in for a cup of tea and some support. Here online we have discussions and blogs to join in and read through.
- Remind yourself it is ok to ask for and accept help – you may be hiding your feelings and pretending to everyone else that you are managing. Talk with others about your feelings, and be open with the person you are caring for too.
When to seek further help
Caring can feel a full time job, and it’s not uncommon to become exhausted.
The stress and responsibility can sometimes become overwhelming – and often people feel they must manage everything alone.
If you’re feeling under pressure, and it is affecting your emotional and physical health – do ask for help. Let your GP and the healthcare team know that you are finding things tough.
There is support available from local volunteer groups, as well as social and community services.
You may be finding that you’re becoming anxious or depressed. Some low days are natural and there are likely to be good days too.
However, if you’re stressed, anxious or depressed, for longer than a few days, do talk to your GP about how you are feeling. You may benefit from some time off work, support and counselling.
In your local Maggie’s centre you can also talk on a one-to-one basis with a Cancer Support Specialist.
Have a look at our blogs and links on this page to find out more about managing when living alone with cancer.
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 nearest Maggie’s centre, or join our online forums to connect with others in a similar position to yourself.