Partners, carers and friends
Partners, relatives, carers or friends of someone who has cancer will have also have a variety of emotions such as uncertainty, loneliness and isolation, denial, anger, and possibly anxiety or depression.
You may feel that you should keep your emotions hidden from the person who is ill. But acknowledging your feelings and talking to others can help you feel stronger. This in turn will mean you are more able to support the person who has cancer.
Emotionally supporting someone with cancer
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A person who has cancer will probably be dealing with a variety of emotions. You can help by listening carefully to what they have to say. Acknowledging their feelings is important. For example, if they say they feel worried, show that you understand rather than trying to tell them everything will be fine.
Of course, you’ll have your own feelings and emotions to deal with. It will help if you’re honest about how you feel. You can then find ways of dealing with things together.
If someone is very anxious or depressed, it can be difficult to live with or help them.
A normally outgoing, sociable person may become someone who is argumentative, irritable or withdrawn, and refuses to talk to you. A person who is depressed may not feel up to going out, or may lack the energy to do even simple activities at home. Yet people with depression don’t often look ill. People outside their family and close friends may not realise how much strain they are under. They may not offer as much help as they would if they knew what the person was really going through.
It’s important to remember that these changes are usually temporary, and that when the anxiety or depression improves, you‘ll often find that the person returns to their old self.
Don’t feel you have to offer solutions or sort out the other person’s problems. Just being there, listening, caring and offering a shoulder to cry on may be the most helpful thing you can do. The feelings and emotions that occur will not last forever, and you can give reassurance that they will improve with time.
Encourage the person to talk through their feelings. Maybe try some of the activities in our self-help section. This may improve their mood without any outside help.
If you feel that someone urgently needs help - for example, if they’re suicidal or so depressed that they aren’t eating or looking after themselves properly - try to persuade them to talk to their doctor. Offer to go to the surgery with them if they feel this would help. If they refuse to seek help, you can talk to their doctor and see what they can do to help.
Our section on how to talk to someone with cancer may help you to feel more confident when speaking to someone about their cancer.
Looking after yourself
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In order for you to be able to support someone who is anxious or depressed, it’s important to take good care of yourself. The following suggestions may help:
Learn more about the cancer and the emotional effects it can cause. This will help you understand what you can do to help and have realistic expectations of treatments.
Stay in touch with your own friends and get out when you can. For example, visit a friend for a chat, or go shopping. Take the opportunity to get out and meet other people, even if you sometimes don’t feel like it.
Try to make time for a break each day, even if it’s just a walk to the shops. This will give you something to look forward to each day. Ideally, you should also try to organise a longer break each week, such as an evening out with friends or a trip to the cinema.
If you don’t want to take a break, at least give yourself little treats to keep yourself going. Order your favourite magazine each week and give yourself an hour to sit down with a cup of tea and read it. Or make sure that you set aside time to watch your favourite TV programme, have a long soak in the bath after a difficult day, or an early night with a good book.
If you’re finding it hard to cope, get help. Talk about how you’re feeling with a family member or close friend. If this isn’t possible or you don’t have anyone you trust, talk to your doctor. They can talk through your frustrations and feelings and can suggest other sources of help.
Protect your physical health too. See your doctor sooner rather than later if you have any health concerns.
Find out about self-help and support groups.
Our cancer support specialists can help you find suitable self-help and support groups near you. If you’re finding your emotions hard to cope with, or you’re finding it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, you should seek professional help.
Wherever you are, you don't have to face cancer alone. Search for support groups, information centres and fundraising teams near you.