Your feelings as a young carer
Finding out that someone close to you has cancer can cause many emotions.
Written by people who've been in your shoes
The advice in this section has been written by people who are under 18 and caring for someone with cancer. You can download their complete handbook - A guide for young people looking after someone with cancer [PDF, 2.52 MB].
We felt frightened about the future and upset that this was happening to someone we loved.
You may feel angry with the world, or with the person who has cancer. You may feel guilty. You may be anxious or feel down. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s a natural part of the cancer experience.
A lot of people say that their first reaction was, ‘What’s going to happen, will he/she recover?’ and then,‘Are they going to die?’ This uncertainty can make you feel all kinds of things.
Bottling it up
I used to talk to my auntie. She was pleased, because she felt like she was supporting my mum by being there for me.
Try not to bottle up your feelings. You might decide to try not to get upset in front of the person who has cancer in case you worry them, and that’s fine. But make sure you’re not dealing with it on your own. Talk to your friends if you can. Or talk to someone else in the family. You may find that they want to share their feelings with you too.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close, then maybe a young carers’ worker or an adult at school or college could help. It doesn’t have to be your form tutor or even someone who takes you for lessons – it may even be the school nurse. You can also chat online with support workers or other young carers at youngcarers.net
There may be a local young carers’ support group you could join. Ask around at school or college. Or see chapter 13 for some organisations that can help. It can be easier to make friends with other young carers when you all have something in common, like going to the same school. There are also plenty of people you can phone. The Macmillan Support Line is free and has plenty of trained specialists to hand. They can answer your questions about cancer, or just be there to listen to you if you feel like talking to someone about how you’re feeling.
If you don’t want to deal with how you’re feeling right now, that’s okay too. Do what works for you, and remember that help is there when you feel ready for it.
Feeling up one minute and down the next (mood swings)
Every day is different when you’re caring for someone with cancer. You’ll probably wake up wondering whether it will be a good day or a bad day.
Because you’re going through such a confusing time, you may find that you get mood swings. One minute you’ll be laughing with your friends, and the next you could burst into tears. This is perfectly normal. It can be hard to deal with every situation as it happens, and often your feelings hit you much later.
It can be difficult to explain your mood swings to people who don’t know that you’re affected by cancer. But you don’t have to explain your situation to anyone if you don’t want to. It’s your business, and you should only talk to people about it if you trust them and feel comfortable with them.
Coping with other people’s feelings
It can be hard to see adults getting upset in front of you. You may not have had to deal with it before. You may feel weird or helpless, or not know what to say. Most of us felt like this at some point.
I’m definitely closer to my dad and brother since my mum got cancer. We always try to be there for each other. I appreciate them so much more now
The best thing we found we could do was to just be there. Be there to listen if they need to talk. Be there with a cup of tea if they get upset. And it’s important to be there for the good days too.
Just as you need to take your mind off the situation, so does the person with cancer. Watch a DVD together. Play a board game if they’re up to it, or do a jigsaw. They will really appreciate just doing something normal and spending time with you.
If you have brothers or sisters, they’ll also get upset. If you are older, part of your role as a young carer may be to look after your siblings. This could include talking to them and comforting them.
‘My older brother went out a lot. He withdrew from the family. It hurt at the time, but I understand now that it was his way of coping.
Often families say that something like cancer brings them closer together. But, if you aren’t close to your brothers or sisters, it can sometimes make you feel alone. Cancer can also cause a lot of pressure, and your family may get angry or fight more. Try not to let it get to you. Remember that everyone is different, and there is no right or wrong way to feel or behave.
If you feel like you need to talk to someone, you can always contact the Macmillan Support Line.
It’s not unusual for someone to feel very low after being told they have cancer, and during or after treatment. Many people feel physically and emotionally exhausted from the treatment, and this can make them feel low. However, for some people affected by cancer, their low mood may continue or get worse and they may need specialist help or treatment. Some people find that their mood is low most of the time for several weeks or more. This may mean that they have depression.
It’s important to recognise that depression isn’t anybody’s fault. Depression is an illness that needs to be treated, just like cancer. If you’re worried that the person you’re caring for may be depressed, try to talk to them about it. Or talk to another adult. It’s important that the depression is diagnosed and treated.
Counselling (support if you’d like to talk about your feelings)
Sometimes you don’t get time to think about what’s going on and you don’t realise that you’re trying to run past what’s happening. It was much later that I suddenly started crying and didn’t stop for a long time.
If you’re struggling to cope or are feeling low, then it might be a good idea to see a counsellor. They’re trained to help you understand your feelings so that you can cope better.
You can go to your GP and ask to be referred to a counsellor. Or there might be a counsellor at your school or college. If you do see a counsellor, you can decide how much you’d like to share with them, and anything you tell them will be confidential.
You may feel embarrassed about needing to talk to someone when it seems as though other people don’t need to. But counsellors are just people, and they’re there to help. You may find it helps to talk to somebody who isn’t directly involved in your situation. If you’re angry with someone or frustrated, you can talk about it to the counsellor without upsetting anyone.
If you decide that the counsellor is not the right person to help you, say so. Perhaps you could speak to someone different.
Talking to someone can help
Counsellors can help lots of people who are affected by cancer. Our video explains how, to help you decide whether it would be helpful for you.