Upcoming webinar: Looking after yourself: when supporting someone with cancer
It’s common for carers to experience a range of feelings about their role and responsibilities. Many feel as if they are on an emotional roller-coaster, and have many questions. Often these feelings are similar to those experienced by the person with cancer.
This section outlines the common emotions experienced, and outlines strategies to manage these feelings.
Although everyone is different, the following feelings are common to most carers at some point.
Many carers say that learning more about the cancer helps them feel more in control, while others feel overwhelmed by the information available. You need to do what feels comfortable for you. If you are anxious, see the the managing medications section.
You may feel angry or frustrated for many reasons, including:
The demands, difficulties and limitations of looking after someone with cancer are often stressful. Symptoms of stress include physical signs, such as trouble sleeping, headaches, high blood pressure, changes in appetite and heart palpitations. Emotional signs may include feeling tired, unwell, overly sensitive or physically and emotionally drained.
It’s common for carers to say they feel continually out of control or under extreme pressure. If stress is ongoing, it could lead to exhaustion and burnout.
"I feel a huge burden of responsibility and my workload has increased. I have to care for someone who needs a great deal of attention, do all the chores around the house and make all the big decisions on my own." – Angela
It is easy to become isolated or feel lonely as a carer. You may feel too busy or guilty to socialise or contact friends and family. People may visit you less often because they think you have too much to do or they don’t know what to say. Some people are uncomfortable being around someone who is ill. Maybe you did a lot with the person who has cancer and you miss this special time together.
Even if you have many helpers, you can still feel alone and isolated. You may feel as though the main caring responsibility has fallen to you, and no-one quite understands what you are going through and how you feel.
While caring can be challenging at times, many carers say it can also be a rewarding experience. Providing support for someone can bring a sense of satisfaction, achievement and personal growth.
Knowing that you are supporting someone during a time of need can help you feel good about yourself. Being there for them and helping even in small ways can strengthen your relationship and create lasting memories.
You may not always feel this sense of satisfaction when you’re caring for someone on a day-to-day basis. However, some people find that when their caring role ends, they are able to reflect on the positive and gratifying parts of their caring experience.
The word depression is used to describe a range of emotional states, from feeling low to not being able to get out of bed. Feeling down or sad is common in difficult situations and usually lasts a short time without severely affecting your life. However, clinical depression is different from feeling down or sad and is more than a mood you can snap out of.
Research shows that depression is common among carers. About one in four female carers and one in five male carers experience clinical depression. Some of the symptoms of clinical depression include:
There are a number of ways to manage depression. Talk to your doctor about your options.
"I felt so much for my husband. And looking ahead, knowing he was going to die, I wondered how I was going to manage on my own." – Vicki
Guilt is one of the most common emotions that carers experience. Some carers have said they feel guilty about:
Many people associate loss and grief with dying. However, feelings of loss and grief can also happen when someone receives a diagnosis of cancer.
As a carer, you may feel that your relationship with the person you are caring for has changed. You may also miss activities you used to enjoy, such as work, regular exercise or socialising. Changes in roles and taking on new responsibilities can cause stress between you and the person you’re caring for. You may have lost the future you thought you would have and/or be dealing with financial changes. It can take time to adjust to the changes and challenges you are facing.
The how relationships change section outlines some of these changes and how to manage them. It may also help to talk to friends and family about your feelings, or you can contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.
You can use these suggestions to manage a variety of emotions.
Reviewed by: Maxine Rosenfield, Counsellor, Private Practice, NSW; Joan Bartlett, Consumer; Julie Butterfield, Consumer; Julie Hill, Telephone Support Group Coordinator, Cancer Council NSW; Anna Lovitt, Senior Social Worker – Oncology, W.P. Holman Clinic, TAS; Carolina Simpson, Policy and Development Officer, Carers NSW; and Helen Tayler, Social Worker/Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT. We would also like to thank the health professionals and consumers who have worked on previous editions of this title.