Caring for a Loved One with Cancer

Your role as a carer

A carer is a person who helps someone with a disability or through an illness such as cancer. In many ways, cancer is as challenging for carers as it is for the person with the disease. Once you know what the likely impact of cancer and your treatment will be, together you can plan ahead. Sometimes you are journeying in to the unknown together.

As a carer you may be a family member, relative, friend or neighbour. You may provide care for a few hours once a week, or 24 hours a day. You may be assisting with daily chores, preparing meals and coordinating doctors’ visits, or you could be providing emotional and spiritual support. Sometimes carers live interstate and help by coordinating care over the phone.

The practical skills and knowledge required to provide effective care or to support your family member or friend can be daunting, especially if your caring role is unexpected. The Carers WA website provides some helpful information about services and practical strategies to help you manage your day to day responsibilities.

The role of the carer usually falls to the spouse of the person diagnosed with cancer, or in children and single adults it is often their parents. Caring for a loved one with cancer can be emotionally, physically, practically and financially demanding. There are many extra duties which fall to the carer and combined with the worry and sense of loss, this can lead to chronic stress. In the long-term, carers can suffer from poor health and greater susceptibility to illness.

The emotions of caring

Caring affects people in many different ways. It can be confusing, scary, lonely and overwhelming. You may find that you have feelings that are hard to understand and sometimes hard to talk about. Remember, feelings are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They are simply feelings and are usually perfectly normal and shared by many others.

Support for the carer

Carers often don’t reach out for support. They may have gone from a relationship where they shared their concerns and supported each other equally, to being the main source of comfort and support for the person with cancer. The carer needs to find external emotional support to help themselves so they can better help their loved one.

While difficulty often brings people together, the demands of cancer can place great strain on relationships. Resources and support can include counselling, attending support groups together or alone, and scheduling time outside the home/hospital environment for activities such as massage, meditation, yoga or simply spending time enjoying life.

Ways to show support for your loved one

Giving emotional support to a loved one with cancer is not easy. Of, course you want to be there for them, but at the same time, it hurts. Keep in mind that your strength will make them even stronger.

Don't show your denial

It's normal to be in shock; after all, misdiagnoses have been made. But be accepting. Support them in their choice to seek a second opinion, if the person you’re caring for has just been diagnosed. But by showing denial you may be encouraging them to think their cancer diagnosis is wrong, which might lead to unnecessary delays or later disappointments.

Don’t constantly say ‘It's going to be all right’

People with cancer hear that many times a day! When they hear phrases like that, one of the first things they ask themselves is, ‘What if it's not okay,’ or ‘How do you know?’ Instead of trying to reassure them that everything will be fine, reinforce that you are there to support them.

Normal is okay

Don't feel like you can't talk about what is going on in your life, good or bad, in front of your friend or loved one. You may feel like your life or problems are trivial compared to having cancer, but normalcy is refreshing and relaxing for someone with cancer. People often start treating them differently as soon as they find out about the cancer, and they can start to feel like invalids, even when they are fully functional. Normalcy is a key to coping.

Look after yourself

The best way you can care for anyone else is by looking after yourself. When you attend to your own wellbeing you boost your quality of life. In turn, your wellbeing ensures you have the energy and capacity to face any challenges coming your way. This means you can provide more effective support to the people around you. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time out. The Carers WA website provides comprehensive information about caring for yourself, respite and looking after yourself. You may also find that some of the Wellness Programs and therapies offered at the Cancer Wellness Clinic are beneficial for you.