Your feelings when you’re looking after someone with cancer

If you’re looking after someone with cancer, you may be going through lots of different feelings and emotions.

It’s natural to feel frustrated, depressed, angry or resentful at times. Many people feel frightened about the future or feel guilty that they’re not doing enough for the person they’re caring for. You may be very tired and have no time to enjoy your hobbies or see friends. If the person you’re caring for is in pain, they may be irritable. Or perhaps they don’t seem to appreciate everything that you’re doing for them.

Some people find that coping with things together brings them closer. Others find it more difficult to cope with the worries, uncertainties and responsibilities involved when they become a carer.

It’s important to look after yourself too. It can help to talk to someone else about your situation. Ask your GP or healthcare team about the support available in your area. Macmillan also has an online community where you can connect with others in a similar situation.

Your moods and emotions

It’s important to realise that your moods and emotions matter too.

You are likely to be very aware of how the person you care for is feeling. Family and friends will be thinking about this too. But it isn’t only the person you care for who has feelings. People may forget to ask how you are feeling, but your feelings are important and you should try not to put them to one side. However you feel is okay and natural.

There’s no need to apologise or feel guilty for having strong emotions or moods yourself. It’s important that you find ways to express them, and to find the support and space that you need for yourself.

It’s normal to ask for help. This may be from your family and friends, a counsellor, or a health or social care professional. We have more information about getting emotional support.


Anxiety

When someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal to worry about what will happen in the months or years ahead. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to this situation.


Depression

Looking after someone with cancer is difficult and it is natural that you may feel very low sometimes. For some people, their low mood may get worse and this may mean they have depression.

Depression is a common condition that affects around 1 in 10 people. It can be triggered by difficult events, such as someone close to you being diagnosed with cancer. But it can also happen by chance or be related to other events that have nothing to do with cancer. If you’re having these kinds of feelings, there are things you can do to help yourself.


Practical tips to help you cope with anxiety and depression

  • Ask for support whenever you need it and don’t be afraid of your own emotions. This is a very difficult time, so strong and confusing feelings are natural.
  • Take some time out from caring. There may be help available so the person you care for isn’t left alone while you have a break. Some carer organisations, such as the Carers Trust, offer free respite care. Or you can contact your local social services to arrange a carer’s assessment. This is a meeting where you can find out what help is available.
  • Chat with a good friend about your worries. And talk to the person you’re caring for about how you are feeling. They may be able to offer you support and may be glad you asked.
  • Gentle exercise, like a 10-minute walk, can help.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
  • Spend some time alone relaxing. You could have a candle-lit bath, listen to music or treat yourself to some of your favourite foods.

You could also speak to your GP or a counsellor. They can help you manage depression or anxiety. Or if you prefer talking on the phone, you can call us on 0808 808 00 00, or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.


If the person you care for is anxious or depressed

If the person you care for is very unwell, they may become preoccupied and have low moods. You may also notice that they have less empathy if they are taking strong painkillers.

There are things that can help to lift their spirits. They could try relaxation techniques, mood music, books or audiobooks, or having a television in their bedroom. Or they could try downloading relaxing MP3s (audio files) and podcasts from the internet. The website learnzone.org.uk has a section called Relaxation Corner where you can download these.

Many people find complementary therapies such as reflexology, massage or aromatherapy can also help with relaxation.

Visitors can also help. Or you could encourage them to talk to other people in a similar situation. Support groups and online support can help.

Take time to sit together with family or friends and talk about your favourite memories.

If the person you care for has panic attacks, it can be helpful to keep paper bags nearby. Breathing into a paper bag can slow down their breathing and help them feel better.

If you think that the person you care for is depressed, talk to a health or social care professional. You can read more about depression and watch a video about it by visiting macmillan.org.uk/depression

Cancer and depression

Alfie talks about coping with depression after his cancer diagnosis.

About our cancer information videos

Cancer and depression

Alfie talks about coping with depression after his cancer diagnosis.

About our cancer information videos


Being positive

As a carer you may feel like you should ‘be positive’ for the sake of the person you look after. Your family or friends may say you should keep being positive to help you through this difficult time. But it’s not always easy – a lot of people have periods of feeling low at some time in their lives, and this is quite natural. Sometimes being told to be positive when you feel low can be frustrating. It can feel as though the person isn’t accepting how you really feel, even if they are just trying to help.

Being positive can mean different things to different people. It’s generally about dealing with whatever situation you’re in, being optimistic and finding ways of coping. People do this in different ways. What works for one person may not work for another.

No one can be positive all the time. It’s important that you don’t feel you must always stay on top of things. Being positive doesn’t mean having to feel happy and cheerful all the time. It’s a positive thing to acknowledge and talk about it if you’re feeling tired, worried, depressed or angry.

‘Be kind to yourself. The way you’re feeling is normal, we’ve all felt like that from time to time.’ Caroline

Caroline


Practical tips about keeping positive

  • Don’t forget that you are only human and that your best is good enough. Trying to get the most out of your day personally can help you stay positive. If you have any spare time to yourself, think about what will give you a boost. This may just be reading a newspaper or having a cup of tea.
  • Try some activities that distract you from the situation. Keep doing your hobbies and interests where possible.
  • If you can keep working, it may be a good distraction and give you routine in your life. We have more information about working whilst caring.
  • Talking about good times with the person you care for and not worrying about your current situation can help to lift your spirits, and theirs.
  • Feel good about the fact that you have made a difference to the person you are caring for. Remember that you’re doing something positive by helping with their stress and pain.
  • At the end of each day, try to remember something good you both did that day, or something that made you both laugh.

Be Good to Yourself is a workshop that may help you manage negative thinking and plan ways to live a healthier life. To find out more call 0808 808 00 00 or email learning@macmillan.org.uk.


Guilt

You may sometimes feel guilty. This could be because you feel like you should be doing more for the person you care for. You may feel guilty about an argument you had with them or because you sometimes resent the support you have to give them. Feelings like these are common. It’s important to accept that having negative thoughts does not make you a bad person. Talking about guilt will also help. If you can, try to share your feelings with your family and friends.

Remember, whatever you feel able to do is enough. Try not to feel guilty about having time to yourself – it’s very important and can help you be a better carer.


Feeling isolated

You may feel isolated by your role as a carer. It may feel as though you are struggling alone. Remember that support is available.

Try to share your worries with the person you are caring for. Touch and cuddle them – a loving touch can make a big difference. They may feel isolated by the cancer too.

Some carers have trouble communicating with the person they care for, but talking to a professional can help.


Anger and frustration

When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to feel angry. You might question why this has happened to them, and to you.

You may find you feel worried, anxious or hopeless, but you express it through anger or being irritable.

You might be looking for someone to blame, and get angry with the doctors and nurses. Or you might aim your anger at the people closest to you, even the person who has cancer. Not everyone feels this way but it’s okay if you do.

It’s really important to express your feelings as they happen, because they may become stronger if you try to hold them in. A hobby or sport where you can release your anger and frustrations may help. It may also help to write things down.

Even with members of your family and close friends, it can be difficult to say how you feel. You may find it helpful to talk about your anger with a counsellor or someone in a support group.

People being cared for can sometimes take their anger out on the people closest to them. Try not to feel responsible for their emotions. Some cancers can affect a person’s behaviour, for example they might have sudden fits of anger. Speak to a healthcare professional about whether the person you are caring for may be affected in this way.


Fear

Try to understand what you are afraid of. It’s natural to fear the unknown more than anything else, so the more you can learn about what frightens you, the easier it will be to deal with your situation.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Knowing the facts will often help alleviate fear. If you are religious or have spiritual beliefs, religious and spiritual leaders may be a good source of support and comfort to you.


Tiredness and exhaustion

You will probably feel tired and even exhausted sometimes. Spending time looking after someone can be physically and emotionally draining. It’s important to take care of yourself and make sure you don’t become overwhelmed.


Practical tips to help with tiredness

  • Rest whenever you can – short naps can help to revive you. Try a relaxation CD or MP3 (audio file). An hour or so in a state of deep relaxation can make you feel as if you’ve had a long sleep.
  • Try to eat healthily and be active. You may feel too busy to exercise, but even walking can help. A short walk to the shops gets you outdoors and can refresh you.
  • Think about having a flu jab – carers are automatically entitled to one for free, so ask your GP. It’s important to take care of your health too. If you get ill, see your doctor as soon as you can.


Denial

Denying that someone close to you has cancer after their diagnosis is a normal reaction. If you feel in denial, don’t blame yourself or feel that you must hurry to overcome it.

Denial can be a useful way of coping with the news, both for you and the person with cancer. But if it lasts for weeks or months, it can become a problem.

If the person you care for is diagnosed with advanced cancer, denial may be a way of coping for you both.


Resentment

Most carers have times when they feel resentful. It’s natural to feel like this. You may not have much time to enjoy hobbies or go out and see your friends. The person you’re caring for may sometimes be moody, self-centred and withdrawn. They may have become more irritable since they became ill, especially if they’re in pain. They may not always seem to appreciate what you’re doing for them. Many people take out their fear, anxiety or frustration on the person closest to them. If this is happening to you, you may sometimes feel unwanted and resentful. Trying to talk about this may help – perhaps find a time when you’re both having a better day.

You may find it easier to talk about your feelings with someone else. Sometimes feelings of anger and guilt can build up, especially if you’re not able to talk about them. Give yourselves a chance to try to understand how the other person feels and you may be able to avoid your anger and irritation building into an argument.

'We have good days and bad days. I've learned to take each day as it comes.’ Deb

Deb

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Emotional support

If you look after someone with cancer, it can be hard to cope with your feelings. It’s important to look after yourself too.