Getting support

Tuesday 30 April, 2013

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On this page: Offers of help | Getting help and support when you're alone | Practical and financial help | Community support | Talk to someone who's been there | Types of support services | Reviewers

Even though family and friends can be there to help, many people still find it hard to ask for and accept support. When you're facing the extra demands of cancer, your support network can make an enormous difference. And family and friends can feel helpless and shut out if they aren't allowed to provide support.

Offers of help

Be aware that not everyone will be able to help in the same way. Some people will be comfortable talking about the cancer and comforting you if you're upset. However, other people may not be as good with words or strong feelings. They might prefer to support you in practical ways, such as helping with meals, transport or work around the home. Let people know what they can do to help and allow them to choose activities that match their abilities.

Different ways people can help

  • Giving practical help – for example, driving to appointments, sharing an after-school roster, providing company, shopping, making meals, helping you exercise.
  • Having fun, getting you out and about, not talking about your worries.
  • Keeping others informed, screening calls and emails, acting as a gatekeeper or support coordinator.
  • Listening without trying to solve your problems.

Getting help and support when you're alone

It's not unusual for people to find themselves alone sometimes in their lives. Having a serious illness when you feel that you have no close family or friends can be especially hard. But you don't have to tough it out by yourself. See the section below on Practical and financial help for ideas on the services that are available.

You may find that simply getting some help with practical things is all you need. For example, it might be useful to have your dog walked while you have treatment, get your lawn mowed or have your groceries or meals delivered.

'I've met some amazing people along the way who have guided and helped me – some are likely to continue to brighten my future.' — Tash

Practical and financial help

A serious illness can cause practical and financial difficulties. Many services are available to help:

  • Financial or legal assistance - through benefits, pensions and programs - may help pay for prescription medicines, transport costs to medical appointments, utility bills or basic legal advice.
  • Meals on Wheels, home care services, aids and appliances can be arranged to help make life easier at home.
  • Subsidised travel and accommodation may be available if you need to travel long distances for treatment.
  • Home nursing care may be available through community nursing services or local palliative care services.
  • Centrelink, Commonwealth Carelink Centres, home help, child-care assistance.

Contact the Cancer Council on 13 11 20 or your hospital social worker, occupational therapist or physiotherapist to find out which services are available in your area and if you're eligible to receive them.

'Talking to a counsellor made me realise I don't have to go it alone. We have good friends and a great community who will support me and make sure the kids feel secure. I just needed to be able to step back and see the possibilities.' — Kate

Community support

Letting others share in your care allows them to feel useful and supportive. It's also worth remembering that the more supporters you have, the smaller the load on any one person. Other sources of support could include formal or informal school-based assistance, such as the school counsellor or chaplain, outside school hours care, parent groups, and church and religious groups.

Talk to someone who's been there

Coming into contact with other people who've had similar experiences to you can be beneficial. You may feel supported and relieved to know that others understand what you're going through and that you're not alone. There are many ways for you and your family members to connect with others for mutual support and to share information.

In these support settings, people often feel they can speak openly and share tips with others. You may find that you're more comfortable talking about your diagnosis and treatment, your relationships with friends and family, and your hopes and fears for the future.

Ask your nurse, social worker or a Cancer Council nurse about suitable support groups and peer support programs in your area.

Types of support services

  • Face-to-face support groups: often held in community centres or hospitals
  • Online discussion forums: where people can connect with each other at any time. See
  • Telephone support groups: for certain situations or types of cancer, which trained health professionals facilitate
  • Peer support programs: match you with a trained volunteer who has had a similar cancer experience, e.g. Cancer Connect.

Reviewers: Dr Lisbeth Lane, Senior Clinical Psychologist, University of Wollongong, Wollongong Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Social Worker, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Megan Best, Palliative Care Physician, Greenwich Hospital, NSW; Deborah Ball, Coordinator of Direct Support Services, Cancer Council SA; Sandy Hutchison, Executive Manager, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council QLD; Jill Adams, RN, Helpline, Cancer Council WA; and Ksenia Savin, Cancer Connect Volunteer and Consumer, QLD.

Updated: 30 Apr, 2013