Upcoming webinar: Looking after yourself: when supporting someone with cancer
The responsibility of attending to the needs of the person you’re caring for may mean that you neglect your own needs. Some carers have said they felt like they lost their identity when caring. It may feel as though your career, interests and health are no longer important or have to take second priority.
Looking after yourself will help you provide better quality of care to the person you care for over a longer period of time.
As carers are busy looking after someone else, they can find it difficult to find time to look after their own health and wellbeing.
When they do notice that they’re not feeling well, they might downplay their own health needs. You can acknowledge that you are not feeling well without comparing it to how the person with cancer is feeling.
Maintaining fitness and eating well will help carers more easily cope with the physical demands of caring. Getting enough sleep will also give you more energy.
Asking for and accepting assistance is sometimes difficult. You may find it hard to let others know what help you need, but if you seem to be coping, family and friends may not realise you need help. They may be waiting for you to ask for help because they don’t know how to offer or fear they will be intruding or disturbing you. Let them know their help is appreciated and that it’s not an interference. Asking for help is not a sign of failure, and it may relieve some pressure and allow you to spend time with the person you’re caring for.
You may want to hold a family meeting to discuss how everyone can help. Tasks that can be done by or shared with others include:
"At first, I didn't ask for help, because I didn't want to bother anyone. I see caring as my duty; I have to do it. I now realise people genuinely want to help. They need my help to show them how." – Gavin
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:
Acknowledging the rewards of caring may help you feel better. These include learning new skills, strengthening your relationship as you demonstrate your love and commitment, and satisfaction from providing care to someone in need.
Outline what you are comfortable helping with, the level of workload you can manage, and what your own needs are. For example, if you find it uncomfortable or are physically unable to wash or provide intimate care to the person you care for, look at alternatives such as regular visits from a community nurse.
It may not be possible to do everything you want to do. You will need to prioritise your weekly tasks and activities. You may want to use a diary to keep track of information and appointments.
Writing down what has been happening allows some carers to release their worries or frustrations. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on how they’re coping and identify areas they need assistance with. Reading back through journal entries can give carers some perspective – you may notice that some days are better than others.
Sometimes you may feel like you could have done something differently or handled a situation better. Allow yourself to not be perfect. Each new day brings a fresh start and a chance to remind yourself that you are doing your best.
When the person you care for is having treatment, life may seem less predictable. You may have to put some plans on hold because you are not sure what is ahead. Carers often find this uncertainty stressful. You may find it easier to cope if you focus on things you can control.
You may be able to schedule doctors’ visits so you can accompany the person you’re caring for. It may also help to learn more about cancer and possible treatment options so you feel like you have a better understanding of what is happening.
You might find providing care too difficult, particularly if the person you’re caring for insists you do all the caring rather than involving others.
Perhaps you know you need support but don’t want to disappoint them. Consider seeing a professional counsellor, either alone or with the person you are caring for. The counsellor may be able to discuss options to make caring more manageable.
Ask your GP or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information on how to get a referral to a counsellor.
Respite care allows carers to have a break from their caring role. Respite can be given at home, in a respite care centre or, in some cases, a hospital or hospice.
Respite care can be for a couple of hours, overnight or a few days. You can access respite care for any reason, including to:
Some carers don’t access respite care because they feel guilty or anxious about leaving the person they are caring for. However, the service is there because caring can be a difficult role and can affect your wellbeing. By taking a break, you will probably find that you can continue your caring role more effectively.
Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres, located across Australia, provide free and confidential information on local carer support services and respite options. Call 1800 052 222 during business hours. Call 1800 059 059 for emergency respite support outside standard business hours.
"I cannot speak highly enough of the Commonwealth emergency respite services for carers. They played a very important role in my case." – Geoff
Many people who care for someone with cancer are also employed. They may work full-time, part-time, casually or have their own business. Working carers often have to balance the needs of the person they are caring for with the demands of the workplace. If the person with cancer does not work and is dependent on you, there may be financial pressure on you to continue earning an income.
Your decision to continue working will probably depend on:
Before making changes to your working arrangements, talk over your thoughts with your employer, family and friends. You can also contact the Carers Association in your state or territory for support and counselling. Visit carersaustralia.com.au or call 1800 242 636.
To find out more about working while caring for someone, see workingcarers.org.au or contact your local Carers Association. See Cancer, Work and You and Cancer Care and Your Rightsor call Cancer Council 13 11 20.