Even though family and friends can be there to help, many people still find it hard to ask for, and accept, support. When you are dealing with treatment and side effects, your support network can make an enormous difference. You don’t have to deal with cancer alone. Family and friends usually appreciate being allowed to provide support – it helps them feel useful.
Offers of help
Friends and family can help in different ways. Some people will be comfortable talking about the cancer and comforting you if you are upset. Other people may prefer to support you in practical ways, such as helping with meals, transport or work around the home. You may want to use an app to set up a roster so people can choose activities that match their abilities and interests.
Different ways people can help
- Providing practical support – preparing meals, doing household chores, going grocery shopping, driving you to appointments, sharing an after-school roster, helping you exercise
- Keeping others informed – screening calls and emails, acting as a gatekeeper or support coordinator
- Offering companionship – listening without trying to solve your problems
- Keeping you involved – getting you out and about, and talking about other things aside from cancer
Getting support when you need it
It’s not unusual for people to find themselves alone sometimes in their lives. Having a serious illness when you feel that you have no close family or friends can be especially hard. But you don’t have to tough it out by yourself. See the section below for details of services that offer practical and financial assistance.
Other sources of support could include non-profit organisations, faith-based groups and, if you have children, formal or informal school-based assistance, such as the school counsellor.
You may find that simply getting some help with practical things is all you need. For example, while you are having treatment, it might be useful to have your dog walked, get your lawn mowed or have your groceries or meals delivered.
People are often willing to help if they know you need it. If you feel comfortable, you may consider reaching out to friends or acquaintances. You may want to ask one of them to coordinate offers of help.
"I’ve met some amazing people along the way who have guided and helped me – some are likely to continue to brighten my future." - Tash
If you want to talk about the diagnosis or how you’re coping with treatment and side effects, you may want to consider connecting with a support group.
Practical and financial help
After a cancer diagnosis, many people worry about how they will manage the financial impact. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may need to deal with reduced income and extra costs
- There are many services that can help deal with practical or financial problems caused by the cancer.
- Financial or legal assistance – through benefits, pensions and programs – may help pay for prescription medicines, transport costs to medical appointments, utility bills or basic legal advice.
- Meals on Wheels, home care services, aids and appliances can be arranged to help make life easier at home.
- Subsidised travel and accommodation may be available if you need to travel long distances for treatment.
- Home nursing care may be available through community nursing services or local palliative care services.
- Centrelink, Commonwealth Carelink Centres, home help or child-care assistance may be available to you.
Ask the hospital social worker which services are available in your area and if you are eligible to receive them. Cancer Council offers free legal and financial services in all states and territories for people who can’t afford to pay. Order free copies of Cancer and Your Finances and Cancer, Work & You online or call 13 11 20.
Talk to someone who’s been there
Coming into contact with other people who have had similar experiences to you can be beneficial. You may feel supported and relieved to know that others understand what you are going through and that you are not alone.
People often feel they can speak openly and share tips with others who have gone through a similar experience.
In a support group, you may find that you are more comfortable talking about your diagnosis and treatment, relationships with friends and family, and hopes and fears for the future. Some people say they can be even more open and honest in these support settings because they aren’t trying to protect their loved ones.
Types of support
There are many ways to connect with others for mutual support and to share information. These include:
- face-to-face support groups – often held in community centres or hospitals
- telephone support groups – facilitated by trained counsellors
- peer support programs – match you with someone who has had a similar cancer experience, e.g. Cancer Connect
- online forums – such as cancerconnections.com.au. Talk to your nurse, social worker or Cancer Council 13 11 20 about what is available in your area.
Life after treatment
For most people, the impact of cancer doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry if every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.
You may feel pressure to return to your ‘normal life’, and frustrated that others don’t really understand just how different things are for you. Take some time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and re-establish a new daily routine at your own pace. This is often referred to as the ‘new normal’.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of life after treatment ends. You can also request a copy of the booklet Living Well After Cancer.
Worrying about cancer coming back
Feeling anxious and frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence) is a common concern people have, especially in the first year after treatment finishes. For some people, this worry may affect their ability to enjoy life and make plans for the future.
Some people say that with time their fears lessen, but the worry often returns at certain times, such as before follow-up appointments, special occasions (e.g. birthdays or holidays) or anniversaries of the date they were diagnosed, had surgery or finished treatment.
Ways to manage the fear of recurrence
- Talk to a medical professional about your risk of recurrence.
- Focus on what you can control, e.g. being involved in your follow-up appointments and making changes to your lifestyle.
- Recognise the signs of stress, such as a racing heartbeat or sleeplessness, and manage these in a healthy way. For example, you could try meditation or light exercise.
- Join a support group to discuss your concerns with other people who have had cancer.
- Speak to a counsellor if the fear of recurrence is overwhelming.
- The counsellor may be able to help you balance your thinking or have a more positive frame of mind.
Dealing with feelings of sadness or worry
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning, or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people diagnosed with cancer.
Talk to your GP, as counselling or medicines – even for a short time – may help. Some people are able to get a
Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist or social worker. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Your local Cancer Council may also offer access to a counselling program.
The organisation beyondblue has information about coping with depression and anxiety.
Go to beyondblue.org.au or call 1300 22 4636 to order a fact sheet.
Expert content reviewers:
Prof Jane Turner, Psychiatrist, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland, QLD; Andreea Ardeleanu, Social Worker, Cancer Counselling Service, Phillip Community Health Centre, ACT; Dr Lisa Beatty, Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Flinders University, SA; Joshua Chalmers, Consumer; Valmai Goodwin, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Karen Hall, Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services Division, Flinders Medical Centre, and Nurse Health Counsellor, Cancer Council SA, SA; and Judith McGrath, Consumer.