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Caring for someone with cancer.

Caring for someone with cancer.
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Caring for someone with cancer

6-minute read

Caring for someone with cancer can be emotionally draining and scary. Here is information and advice that can help you through the challenges. How much you have to do for the person you care for will depend on the type and severity of their cancer.

Are you a carer or helping someone out?

Carers are everyday people who provide unpaid and ongoing care and support to someone they know who has a disability, mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail.

If you are a carer, you may help someone with their daily activities. This may include physical and personal care, such as dressing, lifting, showering, feeding or providing transport. You may also be responsible for managing their medicines and providing emotional, social or financial support.

Medical support and advice

It's important to have contact details for the list of people who can give medical support. Care is usually provided by a multidisciplinary team, which may include the person's doctor, oncologist (cancer specialist) or cancer care coordinator (who provides support and access to resources including equipment).

Make sure you have the written consent of the person you are caring for to speak to their medical team and make sure this consent is formally recorded in their case file. It is a good idea to talk to the medical team to find out the best way to do this.

The care that you give may need to change as the symptoms of cancer or side effects of any medication change. Some symptoms may get worse and some may get better, but it's important to know when to be concerned.

Cancer Council Australia can also provide more information about cancer through their website, or by calling their helpline on 13 11 20.

Moving and handling

If the person you care for has mobility issues because of their cancer, you'll probably need to help them get about.

This might involve lifting them out of a chair or bath, or helping them to get around. If so, you will need equipment and training and help so you don't injure yourself.

You will need advice on where to source equipment to help you move or handle the person you care for.

Changing the layout of your house may help. For example, if the person you care for has trouble getting up and down stairs, you could move their bedroom downstairs. You may be able to get financial help to make adaptations to your home.

Household chores

Try not to turn down offers of help. Activities like keeping the house clean may drop down your list of priorities, but if someone else can do this or help you for an hour or 2, it can give you one less thing to worry about.

Money and benefits

Your role in your relationship may change as you become a carer. For example, your partner may have dealt with household finances in the past, but now this is your responsibility. If you're not sure how to deal with new responsibilities, ask for help so you don't become overwhelmed.

You can access free, confidential advice education and information from Services Australia (formerly Department of Human Services):

If you would prefer to speak to someone, FIS officers provide information to people over the phone, at personal interviews, and through financial education seminars. You can phone 132 300 (Monday to Friday 8am – 5pm) and ask to speak to an FIS officer. If possible, the officer will answer your questions over the phone. If there are complex issues to be discussed, the FIS officer may offer to arrange an appointment for you.

You may be entitled to benefits if you are ill and need treatment or care, and your doctor will be able to advise you about this. You can get further information about the Carer Allowance and Carer Payment from Services Australia (formerly Centrelink).

Your emotions

Many carers feel angry and start to wonder why the person they care for is affected by cancer. They may also resent the fact that they have to sacrifice certain areas of their life to fulfil their caring role.

It can also be easy to feel isolated and lonely when caring for someone with cancer. Friends might be too worried about offending to offer help, or not realise the carer is finding things difficult. If you are a carer, make sure you have family or friends you can confide in. You may feel pressure to pretend that everything's OK, but it's normal to experience a range of feelings. You might go from feeling positive in your caring role, to feeling utterly exhausted, frustrated and guilty. If you feel you can't open up to friends or family, you may find it easier to speak with other carers in the same position.

You may find it helpful to talk about the difficulties of caring for someone with cancer.

The Cancer Council Helpline is a free, confidential telephone information and support service run by Cancer Councils in each state and territory. Anyone can call - cancer patients, people living with cancer, their families, carers and friends, teachers, students and healthcare professionals. Specially trained staff are available to answer your questions about cancer and offer emotional or practical support.

Cancer Council Helpline:

  • call 13 11 20
  • local call cost from anywhere in Australia (mobile calls charged at mobile rates)
  • is open between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday
    • some states have extended hours
    • some states have health professionals on staff
    • some states have multilingual services

The Cancer Council also provides online support through their Online Community, where you can ask questions and participate in groups, forums and blogs.

End-of-life care

In consultation with family, carers and palliative care services, people can choose where they are cared for and where they want to die.

This may involve the support of a care team in their home, or in a palliative care unit or hospital.

Caring for someone who is dying is tough. How you deal with it will partly depend on how the person you care for approaches their own death.

Try to be sensitive to how they feel, but if you don't feel you can talk to them about it, make sure there is someone you can talk to about your own experience.

Support for carers

Find practical information and useful resources for carers at:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

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