What to expect when caring for someone with cancer – and tips and advice on coping
Caring for someone with cancer can be physically and emotionally challenging. This guide explains what to expect from your role as a carer.
It also includes advice and tips from the Live Better With cancer community, who have been through the experience of caring for their loved ones.
In this guide:
What does being a carer mean for me?
A carer is a person who provides help or support to somebody. As a carer to someone with cancer, your loved one will rely on you for all sorts of practical and emotional help. This might include taking them to medical appointments, helping with personal care and household chores – and also being a good listener.
The support of friends and family can make all the difference to someone with cancer, but it’s also important to remember to look after yourself.
Managing appointments and treatments
Caring for someone with cancer means you will have to deal with a lot of medical appointments, with regular visits to hospitals and treatment centres.
Take notes in appointments
Many people who are diagnosed with cancer say that they find it difficult to hear or understand what they are being told at medical appointments. They feel a sense of unreality and find it hard to ‘take in’ what doctors and nurses are saying. As a carer you can really help by listening carefully and taking notes in medical appointments. Then afterwards you will be able to help your loved one to understand and process what was said.
Put together a treatment plan
It can be helpful to put together a simple treatment plan, showing when and where each appointment is for the coming week. As well as helping to keep everything organised, having a plan will reduce stress and worry for you as a carer.
You may want to keep a journal, to record all the important things like appointments, tests and side effects.
The CanPlan journal can help with this, as well as offering encouraging thoughts and tips.
Make a medication checklist
Your loved one may need help with taking their medication. Try making a medicine chart, listing each medicine and how often it should be taken, with a tick box so you can tick it off when it has been taken.
Using a pill organiser can also make it easier to keep track of the medication.
Draw up an emergency list
The Live Better With community recommends making an emergency checklist, which shows what your loved one would need to take for an overnight hospital stay or in an emergency.
Money and work
Caring for someone with cancer may affect your work and finances. It might cost extra money to take the person to and from hospital appointments, go food shopping for them, or pay for extra heating.
You might have to give up work, or work fewer hours, so your income may go down. It’s worth talking to your employer about possible options, such as working flexible hours.
Grants and benefits
If money is an issue, you might be able to get extra help in the form of grants or benefits. Some charities offer one-off grants, and you might be able to reclaim travel costs for travelling to and from hospital.
Check if you or your loved one has a life insurance or critical illness policy which covers things like loss of income or mortgage payments.
Getting practical support
Help with chores
Being a carer can be exhausting. If you can, arrange for someone to help with the day-to-day chores. Ask friends or family to help with the shopping, or overnight care, or pay a cleaner to do some housework for a few hours, so you don’t have to worry about it.
“Ask for help if you’re struggling, ask if someone can sleep over and share responsibility of overnight care a couple of days a week. This helped me to take some time out so I could get a full night of uninterrupted sleep – bliss!” – Charlotte, Live Better With community member
Caring for someone with cancer can also involve a lot of physical work, which might include lifting the person, helping them to wash and dress, or helping them move around. A care worker can help with these things.
You may also be able to make changes (adaptations) to your home to make things easier, so it’s worth talking to your doctor or occupational therapist.
This will help them to feel more independent, and will also help to ease the load for you.
Looking after yourself
It can be all too easy for carers to forget about their own needs, as they put all their time and effort into caring for their loved one.
However, if you want to look after someone else, you must take care of your own needs too. Looking after yourself will help you to stay strong, both physically and mentally.
Practising mindfulness can be an effective way of helping to relax and clear your mind. The Live Better With community recommends The Little book of Mindfulness, which includes tips to help reduce stress and anxiety.
“I enjoy being able to pick up the book and to read a little when I can or feel that I’d like to” – Nicola B, Live Better With community member
Some people also find it relaxing to use mindfulness colouring books.
It might be difficult to find the time to exercise. However, a short walk in the fresh air is good for both body and soul. Try to get outside for at least ten minutes every day if you can. Many carers also recommend doing some gentle yoga stretches every day.
A good night’s sleep can make all the difference when you’re caring for someone with cancer. It allows your body to recharge and helps you to cope both physically and emotionally. However, it can also be one of the hardest things to do!
To help relax ready for sleep, many carers recommend having a warm bath, perhaps with some essential oils such as lavender, which can help you to have a deeper and more refreshing rest.
“Take breaks whenever you can, short naps help me catch up on sleep and leave me feeling refreshed and energised” – Katie, Live Better With community member
Avoiding tea or coffee and instead choosing a warm, milky drink can also help to prepare your body for sleep.
As a carer, eating properly can be challenging, but you should try to look after your body by eating a balanced diet. Using a simple cookbook can make it easier to prepare nutritious meals. Having a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivered can also help make sure that you are getting your ‘five a day’. If you don’t always have time to cook, keep some healthy snacks on hand.
“Sometimes I find it tricky to fit in time for a proper meal especially when I’m driving to all the appointments. I started buying bitesize varieties of foods and keep them in the car so I can eat on the go if I need to.” – Clair, Live Better With community member
Taking time out
It’s important to take some time out when you can. This may be as simple as spending five minutes in the garden with a cup of tea, getting out and meeting with a friend, or just watching a favourite TV show.
This will help with your role as a carer, and your own personal well-being.
Dealing with emotions
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they might feel lots of different emotions – and it’s the same for you as their carer.
You might feel shocked, sad or angry about the diagnosis, worried about the future, lonely, or even resentful. It’s hard to see a loved one go through their treatment and deal with any side effects. The situation may have changed your own way of life, and your friendships or family relationships, particularly if you are caring for a parent, partner or child.
You might be trying to juggle looking after your loved one with working, or caring for the rest of your family. You might be worried that you are not doing enough, or not doing it right.
Such feelings are completely natural, and it’s important to talk about them. If you find it difficult to talk to the person you are caring for, it can be helpful to talk to a friend, family member, or a professional counsellor.
Local and online support groups can also be helpful. Our Facebook community (will need to change to /community once launched) offers advice and support to people caring for someone with cancer.
Share your stories and tips
Do you care for someone with cancer? Or perhaps you have a carer who does an amazing job for you? What makes life better for you?
We’d love to hear about your stories and any tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.