If you are a carer of an older person with cancer
A carer is someone of any age who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend with cancer who could not manage without this help.
As a carer of someone with cancer, you have an important role in helping to maintain their quality of life as you support them through this difficult time. People deal with cancer in many different ways - there is no single or ‘right’ way to deal with it.
The important thing is to do what’s right for you and the person you care for. In the same way, there are no magic phrases or approaches, which are the correct thing to say, or do, when caring for someone who has cancer. Often, the important thing isn’t what you say, but how you listen. You might find our information about talking to someone with cancer useful.
Taking care of yourself
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Caring can be very hard work, both physically and emotionally. If you’ve been caring for your partner, relative or friend for some time, you may already be completely drained. It can be easy to carry on, ignoring how exhausted you are, because you feel that only you can do what needs to be done. Asking for help can be difficult and may seem disloyal.
You may have to teach yourself to say yes to offers of help with shopping or cleaning, so that you can free up time and energy to do the personal things that only you can do.
If you provide ‘regular and substantial’ care for someone over 18, you have the right to a carer’s assessment from the social services department at your local council. This is a chance to discuss what help you need as a carer, and what social services can provide.
This is your right by law, under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000. You don’t have to be living with, or related to, the person you care for to be assessed. We have more information about carers assessments.
You can get equipment and appliances that may make it easier for both of you to cope at home. Your specialist nurse or social services can explain what can be provided. The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) can give you more information.
If you are a carer with cancer
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This section provides information and support for you if you are a carer who has been diagnosed with cancer yourself. It may also be useful if you are caring for someone with cancer and have another health condition.
As we get older, it becomes more likely that we’ll be responsible for caring for a partner, relative or friend who is disabled or ill. If you’re a carer and you are diagnosed with cancer, this may seem like an overwhelming situation. You will need time to think about how you’re going to manage to care for someone while you yourself are ill and possibly having treatment.
You’ll need to understand what treatment you need for your cancer, and how this will affect your health and ability to care for someone else in the short and long term. You should be told when your treatment can start and how long it might take. This can help you decide whether you can continue in your role of carer, with help and support, or whether other arrangements will need to be made for the person you care for.
If the person you’re caring for is mentally alert, then it will help to talk through how you are both going to cope now that you have been diagnosed with cancer. If the person you care for is unable to fully understand your illness (for example, if they have dementia or learning difficulties), you may find it helpful to talk things through with someone else, such as another family member or close friend.
Tackle things in simple steps:
Decide whether you can involve the person you care for in any planning. For example, you could ask them who they would like to care for them if you have to go into hospital for a period of time, or if they would be happy to spend a short time in a care home. If you aren’t able to include them in the planning, find a trusted family member or close friend and talk things through with them. You can also talk to our cancer support specialists.
Take a realistic look at the needs of the person you care for. Could they manage at home temporarily without your support? What do you do each day? What could other people do? There are services that can offer temporary help, such as respite care. Our cancer support specialists can tell you more.
Talk through your caring responsibilities and your planned treatment with one of the medical and nursing team. Ask how soon you’ll be able to go back to your caring role.
Talk to your GP, health visitor or social services about what is happening and find out what must happen to arrange suitable additional help at home or a temporary place in residential care and how quickly this could be available. Age UK has information about temporary stays in care homes and possible costs.
Once arrangements are in place, talk again to your cancer team and give them the go-ahead for your treatment to begin.
It can help to have a few restful days before your operation or the start of treatment, when you don’t have to do your caring duties. This will give you the chance to build up your strength, catch up on some rest and get yourself organised.
If the person you care for hasn’t been involved in your plans, you’ll need to decide when to tell them about the changes that are needed. This can be a difficult conversation. Don’t feel that you are to blame, and try not to feel guilty about the changes you are forced to make at this time. Your cancer treatment may be your number one priority for a time, and you’ll need to concentrate on getting well again.
Support for each other
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No one knows more about the impact cancer has on a person’s life than those who have been affected by the illness themselves.
That’s why we help to bring people with cancer and carers together online and in their communities.
You can find out about people affected by cancer who meet in your area to support each other by calling us or by visiting our page on cancer support groups. You can also share your experiences, ask questions and get support from others by heading to our online community.