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The feelings that arise when someone close to you is very ill can be extremely strong and hard to deal with. It can help to get them out into the open if you can.
If you can’t talk about your feelings with the person you’re caring for, try talking with someone outside the situation who may be able to help you get things back into perspective. Your feelings may be easier to deal with once you have discussed them.
Many people, however, find it very difficult to be open together in this way, especially when they are faced with a new and stressful situation. Some carers are uncomfortable about discussing their own feelings with the person with cancer because they think that they will be a burden. Others can’t bear to talk about it because they don’t think they’ll be able to console their friend or loved one, or because they’re worried about breaking down and crying in front of them.
Some people are simply not used to talking with each other about important things like this.
There are no right or wrong ways of communicating and often just being there, perhaps giving a hug or holding hands, is enough to show someone that you care. Be prepared for them to talk about their illness if they want to. Often they won’t expect you to provide answers but just to listen and understand so they don’t feel so alone.
Our section on how to talk to someone with cancer|, discusses ways of talking to and supporting people with cancer.
If you both find it hard to talk about your feelings, it may be easier to bring in a third person to help you. This could be a trusted friend, a religious leader, a counsellor or one of the health professionals you’ve got to know and trust.
The emotions you feel may be very tangled and confused.
You may find them difficult to talk about and hard to share with your family or friends. Talking to a trained counsellor gives you an opportunity to talk to someone who is outside your situation. They will listen carefully to what you say, and have the skill and understanding to help you explore your feelings and find ways of coping with them.
Some GPs have counsellors attached to their practice, or they can refer you. Your local support group or hospital support centres may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor.
Having some time for yourself can help you to relax and feel able to cope better, which can also help the person you’re caring for.
You may be able to arrange for someone to come in regularly so that you can have some time to yourself, even if it’s only a few hours a week. If there isn’t a relative or friend who can take over for a few hours, there are other ways of getting this help|.
When you get time off, you can use it to relax or enjoy yourself doing something different. It may feel tempting to spend the break clearing up the house or doing the washing so that you can get ahead on the chores, but this is unlikely to help you feel better in the long run. However short it is, a regular and complete break doing something you enjoy is likely to make you feel much better. It might just be an hour looking round the shops, a trip to the cinema or taking a grandchild to the swings. The main thing is to do something that you want to do and switch off for a while.
Sometimes your feelings may get overwhelming and, if you can’t cope, it may help to thump a cushion. This doesn’t harm anyone and can leave you feeling a lot better. You may also like to learn a relaxation technique using relaxation tapes, DVDs or podcasts.
It can also sometimes help to write down your feelings, as this gives you an opportunity to express your emotions rather than bottling them up.
Taking regular exercise, learning relaxation or meditation, or having a massage can help to reduce stress and make you feel better able to cope with caring for the person who is ill.
Content last reviewed: 1 March 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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