Carer questions

1. My mother has cancer and we're very close. I want to support her in the best way but not sure what I should do. Is there support services you offer that might be able to help?

A.

I'm sure you are already providing a lot of support for your Mum by just being there. However, there are several external sources of support available to both the person with cancer and those close to them.

We can offer phone and internet support groups as well as finding a local support group in your area. You can search on our website for specific support groups for your Mum at the following link. If you can't find one, call us on 13 11 20 and we'll look further for you.

We also offer a service called Cancer Connect - a phone peer support service that puts people in touch with others who have had a similar cancer experience. It's free and confidential. Your Mum will be able to talk to someone who understands what she's going through and who knows what it's like to have cancer affect their life. This service is also available to carers and relatives of someone with cancer.

To find out more about this service you or your Mum would need to call our Council Helpline on 13 11 20 (for the cost of a local call) and we'll connect you or her with one of our trained volunteers who has had a similar cancer experience.

Your Mum may be interested in attending one of our support programs for people with cancer. Not all programs may be suitable.

As far as supporting your Mum yourself it can help to:

  • call or visit your Mum each day even if only for a few minutes. Knowing someone you love and trust will be in contact each day is very reassuring.
  • Organise a roster of people to help your Mum with chores such as washing, cooking and cleaning if she is finding them difficult
  • Select one family member or close friend to be the main point of contact. This avoids your Mum having to repeat the same thing over and over when people call to find out how she is.
  • Don't forget to look after yourself as well - you will not be able to support your Mum how you want if you don't get a break to rest and relax every now and then!

You may also find it helpful to read our booklet Caring for someone with cancer.

To speak with a cancer nurse, call our Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20.

2. My husband has cancer and other health problems. He's terribly moody and angry. Is there anything we can do? It's tearing our family apart.

A.

Carers of people with cancer commonly report anger as an issue. This can be devastating when you and the rest of the family feel you're trying your best to be supportive.

Many people feel angry or frustrated when they deal with cancer. People might find that they get mad or upset with the people they depend on the most. They may get upset with small things that never may have bothered them before. People often find it hard to express their anger in words. It may come out in actions such as yelling, slamming doors, stomping around the house.

There are several reasons why someone with cancer may have mood changes including outbursts of anger. It may be a side effect from cancer treatment. Hormone therapy given to treat prostate cancer can affect a man's mood. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can make people very tired and low. Tiredness can sometimes trigger anger. Drugs taken for other health problems may also have side effects contributing to mood swings.

There's also the emotional impact of being given a cancer diagnosis. People respond differently to this depending on their cancer type and stage, age, and amount of support they have. Being told you have cancer is a life-changing and extremely difficult time.

Many people go through a grieving process similar to when someone dies. It's not uncommon for the person diagnosed with cancer to go through a period of feeling very angry. Anger about their loss of control over their life and their future is common. Fears about what might happen, whether treatment will work, or the possibility they could die can all cause anger. This anger is usually taken out on those they're closest to like family!

Anger is a difficult emotion to deal with both for the person feeling angry as well as those close to them. Close family can often feel frightened, lost and isolated around the angry person. They can also become angry about the situation, leaving everyone completely devastated. It can definitely tear families apart.

Cancer is hard to deal with all alone. So talking to people you trust is often a big help. This may be hard at first but most people find if they share their thoughts and feelings they can deal with their cancer better. Talking to a counsellor may help. A GP or cancer specialist should be able to refer to a suitable counsellor.

There are several other support services and resources that you and the rest of the family may find helpful. I will include some links below. Call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 and ask to speak with a cancer nurse who will be only too happy to help you in a more personal way. See also:

See also Australian Psychological Society website about managing your anger.

3. My Mum's been diagnosed with cancer and is currently having treatment. She lives alone, has part time cleaning work but it was only casual and now she can't work. She has very little money. She's struggling a bit with having to pay for transport to the hospital and other bits and pieces. It upsets her to take money from me and my brother even though we don’t mind. I wonder if there's any financial help she can get?

A.

Many people experience financial difficulties when cancer and its treatments interfere with their ability to work. The Cancer Council Victoria (phone 13 11 20) can sometimes help with one-off grants for the payment of household bills up to $250. There is also help available from the Department of Human services Mortgage relief scheme. Phone: 03 9616 8288.

The Social Worker at the hospital where your Mum's having treatment should be able to help her with financial and other support services. Encourage your Mum to make an appointment to see the Social Worker as soon as possible. If your Mum is not comfortable doing this for herself ask her if you can help. Suggest you come along with her to her next and speak with her medical team. Ask them about what help is available and if they can organise an appointment for your Mum to see the Social Worker.

To speak with a cancer nurse, call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20.

4. My Dad's been told that his cancer is advanced. What does this mean and what support is available?

A.

I'm sorry to read that your Dad has advanced cancer. Being told your cancer is advanced can come as a big shock, so I'm sure this must be a difficult time for you and all the family.

Advanced cancer usually means a cancer has spread from where it began to other parts of the body. You may hear this called ‘metastatic cancer' or ‘secondary cancer'. Where it's most likely to spread will depend on the type of cancer your Dad has. But common places cancer spreads to are the bones, liver, lungs and brain.

Cancer can also be ‘locally advanced'. This means the cancer has grown through the organ where it began and into the surrounding body tissue.

When a cancer spreads it's much harder to treat. In some cases it may mean that the cancer is no longer curable. But this doesn't mean there won't be treatment to help control the cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, advanced cancer can be controlled for months and sometimes years. There's a section on our website about advanced cancer.

It may be helpful to talk to a cancer nurse who can listen to your story and link you to information and support. For example the cancer nurse may offer access to phone support and internet support groups as well as finding a local support group in your area. If you can't find one, call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 and we'll look further for you. Once you've made contact with us over the phone, we invite you to receive a ‘call back' from the cancer nurse, who'll make a date to call you back and see how things are going.

If your Dad is well enough he may be interested in attending one of our support programs called ‘When cancer won't go away'. This program offers a safe environment for those with advanced cancer to share experiences and concerns.

As far as supporting your Dad yourself, I'm sure you're doing a lot by just being there. It can be exhausting to watch someone you love go through cancer and its treatment. So be sure to take care of yourself as well.

I wish you and your Dad all the very best.

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Updated: 17 Jan, 2012