Caring for yourself

A carer provides unpaid care and support to a person who needs their assistance because of a disease such as cancer, or disability, mental illness or ageing.

Anyone can be a carer regardless of your age, sex, sexuality, profession or cultural background.

You may still be adjusting to the news that you need to care for someone with cancer. You may be a family member, friend or neighbour. You may not even see yourself as a carer, rather you are simply helping out a person in need or that you are providing care as a natural extension of your relationship.

Every carer is different

For some, becoming a carer can be sudden, for others its a gradual process. However it happens, it may take some time to adjust to the role. Some carers are willing to accept the increased responsibilities, others may be reluctant but feel pressured into accepting the role out of a sense of duty.

How will you feel?

It is common for carers to experience a range of feelings about their new role and responsibilities, and many describe it as an emotional rollercoaster. Often these feelings are similar to those experienced by the person with cancer – some studies show that carers can have even higher levels of distress.  Many carers find it reassuring to know that their feelings are a normal reaction to the demands of the role. It’s important to give yourself permission to take care of your own emotional wellbeing.

While caring can be challenging at times, many carers say that it can also be a rewarding experience. Providing support for someone can bring a sense of satisfaction, achievement and personal growth.

Caring for yourself

Many carers say that providing care can affect their health and wellbeing, relationships, career and finances. Caring can be rewarding, but it may also be difficult at times, both physically and emotionally.

The responsibility of attending to the needs of the person you are caring for may mean you neglect your own needs. It is important to think about yourself for your own sake, but if your natural inclination is to focus completely on the person with cancer, remember looking after yourself will also help you provide better quality of care over a longer period of time.

Some things to do to care for yourself;

  • Keeping healthy – maintaining fitness and eating well can help carers cope with the physical and emotional demands of caring.
  • Asking others for help – is not a sign of failure, and it may relieve some of the pressure and allow you to spend more time with the person you are caring for.

How to cope

Caring for someone with cancer is not always easy or satisfying. Many carers say they feel overburdened and resentful.

The following strategies may help you cope:

  • Take time for yourself. Try to stay involved in activities you enjoy. It’s okay to find pleasure in life, despite the difficulties, and to want to stay connected and talk about things other than cancer.
  • Deal with uncertainty. When the person you care for is having treatment,  life may seem less predictable and it may be hard to plan ahead. Carers often find this uncertainty stressful and feel that their life is in limbo. You may find it easier to cope if you focus on those things you can control right now. Letting go of what you can’t control leaves you with more energy and mental capacity.
  • Organise your time. It may not be possible to do everything you want to do, so prioritise your weekly tasks and activities. Identifying and dealing with immediate priorities can confirm you are on track, even when the future is uncertain.
  • Focus on the value of caring. Acknowledging the rewards of caring may help you feel better.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. Sometimes you may feel like you could have done something differently or handled a situation better. Allow yourself not to be perfect.
  • Set boundaries and limits. Outline what you are comfortable helping with, the level of workload you can manage, and what your own needs are.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down what has been happening may allow you to release your worries and frustrations. It’s also a chance to reflect on how you’re coping and identify areas you need assistance with.

Taking a break (respite care)

Respite care allows carers to have a break. It can be for a couple of hours, overnight or a few days. You can access respite care for any reason, including;

  • Take time out to access health care for yourself
  • Visit friends or other family members
  • Catch up on some sleep at home
  • Run errands, such as grocery shopping
  • Attend events.

Seeking support

Help and support can make the life of a carer easier. Cancer Council has many professional services and support programs that are here to help you. Call Cancer Council on 13 11 20

Find out more about:
You don’t have to face cancer alone – we’re here to help.

For more information refer to the Caring for Someone with Cancer booklet. You can download a PDF or order a hard copy.