On this page: Looking after yourself | Keeping healthy | Asking others for help | Ways to cope | Taking a break (respite care) | Working while caring | Key points
Many carers say that providing care can affect their relationships,
career, finances and health and wellbeing. Caring can be
rewarding, but many carers also find it difficult at times, both
physically and emotionally.
Looking after yourself
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.
Ways to look after yourself
- Make time for a break every day,
even if it’s just 10 minutes.
- Plan breaks or respite care in
advance, so you can arrange
some time for yourself.
- Stay involved in activities you
enjoy. It’s a good stress relief,
and will give you something else
to think and talk about aside
- Let friends or family know that
you want to chat about things
other than caring.
- Ask family and friends to help
you so you can have regular
breaks. See below.
- Try not to hold in how you feel
about caring, particularly if you
are angry or frustrated. You may
want to share how you’re feeling
with friends or family members.
- Be kind to yourself and
ensure your expectations are
Ways to stay healthy
- Eat healthy meals and snacks.
If the person you care for has
long appointments or is in
hospital, you may need to bring
healthy food from home.
- Try to get enough sleep and rest.
Tiredness and exhaustion often
make everything seem harder.
Have regular check-ups with your
- Avoid using alcohol or cigarettes
to relax. These may make you
feel better for a short time,
but they contribute to other
- Exercise for 15–30 minutes each
day. This can increase your
energy levels, help you sleep
better and improve your mood.
If you can leave the house, a
walk, run or swim may help.
An exercise bike or a yoga/
meditation mat can allow you
to exercise at home.
- See a doctor if you notice
changes in your health such as
fatigue, sleep problems, weight
changes and depression.
Asking others for help
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:
- doing household chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry,
ironing, shopping or gardening
- driving the person with cancer to appointments and/or
attending appointments with them
- picking up children from school or other activities
- looking up information
- keeping others updated
- sitting and talking with the person you care for while you take
"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
Ways to cope
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:
Focus on the value of caring
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.
Set boundaries and limits
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.
Organise your time
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.
Keep a journal
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.
Don’t expect to be perfect
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.
Deal with uncertainty
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.
If caring becomes too much
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
Ask your GP or call Cancer
Council 13 11 20 for
information on how to get
a referral to a counsellor.
Taking a break (respite care)
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:
- take time out to access health care for yourself
- visit friends or other family members
- catch up on some sleep at home
- run errands, such as grocery shopping
- attend events, such as a school assembly or a wedding.
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
Working while caring
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:
- how unwell the person with cancer is
- what your caring and work duties involve
- the amount of help or respite care available
- your finances
- what will give you peace of mind.
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.
- Caring can be physically and
- Looking after your own
wellbeing can relieve stress
and tiredness, and reduce
feelings of frustration and
- You may feel that your health
and interests are second
priority to the person with
cancer. Try to take time for
yourself every day, even if it’s
only a short amount of time.
- Carers often forget to look
after their own health. Try to
eat well, get some exercise,
rest and keep up your regular
- Talk to your doctor about any
health concerns, especially if
you are feeling depressed.
- Focusing on the value of your
caring role can make you feel
- Organise your time wisely and
try to concentrate on one task
at a time. Using a diary and
getting help from others can
relieve some of the pressure.
- Life can be unpredictable and
uncertain at times. Learning
more about the condition of
the person you are caring for
may help you feel more in
- Organise respite care so you
can have a break from your
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.