On this page: Worry | Anger and frustration | Stress | Loneliness | Satisfaction | Depression | Guilt | Loss and grief | Ways to cope
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.
Caring for someone with cancer can be frightening. You may feel
- the health of the person you’re caring for
- not knowing enough about the treatment and the health
professionals involved in their care
- being responsible for giving medications
- having so many things out of your control
- not knowing what the future holds
- the possibility that the person you’re caring for will die.
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.
Anger and frustration
You may feel angry or frustrated for many reasons, including:
- having to be the carer
- managing the extra responsibilities
- believing that family and friends could do more to help
- having future plans disrupted
- having little or no time for activities you used to enjoy
- trying to juggle caring with family responsibilities and/or
• feeling the person you’re caring for does not seem to appreciate
the hard work and the sacrifices you’re making.
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
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
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
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
- feeling sad or empty
- losing interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- experiencing a change in appetite or weight
- having problems sleeping
- feeling tired all the time
- having trouble concentrating
- feeling restless, agitated, worthless or guilty
- relying on alcohol and sedatives
- feeling that life isn’t worth living.
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:
- feeling angry and resentful
- wanting a break from caring
- being well, while the person they are caring for is sick
- not being able to make the person better, even though this is
- saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time
- having to care for someone they do not really like
- not doing a perfect job as a carer.
Loss and grief
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
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.
Ways to cope with how you’re feeling
You can use these suggestions to manage a variety of emotions.
- Notice the warning signs – tensing
jaw, pounding heart, gritting teeth,
shaking – and use strategies to calm
- Take some deep breaths, and think
about what has triggered your anger.
- Let the anger out – for example, go
for a brisk walk or talk about your
frustrations with a friend, relative or
- Recognise the situations that make
you angry and learn to respond
differently. It may help to acknowledge
that under the circumstances these
feelings are normal.
- Use your anger to motivate you to
change what you can about the
situation or to find out more about
cancer and its treatment.
- Try relaxation or meditation. Call
Cancer Council 13 11 20 for free copies
of CDs with guided exercises or order online.
- Take a break – have a massage or
do something you enjoy.
- Talk to your GP or a counsellor about
your feelings. They may be able to
offer both emotional and practical
ways to help you manage.
- Look out for signs of stress, and
find ways to deal with how you
- Learn to meditate or practise
breathing or stretching exercises
such as yoga or tai chi.
- Do something you find relaxing
such as listening to music,
reading, or taking a bath.
- Talk to someone about how
- Accept offers of help from
others or suggest tasks others
can do. This will help reduce
your workload. If you appear to
manage on your own, people
may assume you’re okay.
- Try to rest and get enough sleep.
You need energy to look after
- Eat nourishing food to give you
energy and keep you well. Ask
your doctor if any vitamin or
mineral supplements would be
beneficial for you.
- Take time to care for yourself.
Respite care may give you the
break you need.
- Use technology, i.e.
email, Facebook or
a blog, to stay in
touch with family
- Try to make contact
with someone –
either in person or
by phone – on a
daily basis, or ask
a friend to ring you
every few days.
- Arrange for people
to visit you at home.
it’s natural to feel
upset by illness, and
it’s okay if they don’t
know what to say.
- Join a local carers
or cancer support
Sharing your feelings
with someone in a
similar situation may
help you feel less
- Plan time to do
something you enjoy
- Get up as soon as
you wake up rather
than lying in bed.
- Catch up with
friends – either in
person or on the
- Try to do some
exercise; even a daily
30-minute walk may
- Make an appointment
with your GP to talk
about what you are
doctor might refer
you to a counsellor
or talk about other
options, such as
- Visit beyondblue.org.au for more information
about depression and
- Talk about how you
feel with the person
you care for, a friend
or family member.
feelings to yourself
could add to the
guilt you are already
- Consider talking to
a counsellor. This
may help you to
feelings and change
the way you are
- Avoid using the
words ‘should’ or
‘must’ – they can
make you feel more
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.