Getting support and looking after yourself

It can be difficult to cope with some of the feelings and worries that you have when you’re looking after someone with cancer. It helps to be open and honest about how you feel. There is no right or wrong way to do this – do whatever feels right for you.

Some people find it hard to talk about their feelings with the person that they’re caring for. They might worry about upsetting them or breaking down in front of them. If you’d like to talk to someone else, you may find it helpful to see a trained counsellor. Ask your GP about how to organise this.

Support groups and online communities can be a good way to talk to people in a similar situation. You may find that writing your feelings down helps.

It’s important to look after yourself too. Try to take regular breaks, eat healthily and find time to do something you enjoy. Let yourself switch off for a while and release tension if you need too. You might find relaxation techniques helpful, especially if you’re having trouble sleeping.

Talking about your feelings

One of the ways we cope with difficult life events is by talking about them and about our feelings. Talking about your thoughts and feelings can help you:

  • relieve tension by stopping worries and fears from building up
  • feel reassured that your feelings are normal
  • understand how you’re feeling and why
  • put things into perspective
  • find the answer to a problem
  • build bonds with your family and friends.

It’s a good idea to have someone you can talk to other than the person with cancer. This will take pressure off both of you.

The person you talk to might be a partner, close friend, family member or spiritual advisor. Sometimes people find it easier to talk with someone they don’t know.

Macmillan Support Line

You can contact the Macmillan Support Line Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm on 0808 808 00 00. You can call to ask questions about cancer, to discuss money worries, for advice about work or simply for someone to listen to you.

If you feel distressed or need emotional support when the Macmillan Support Line is closed, you can call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. Its confidential helpline is open 24 hours a day.


It can sometimes help to talk to a counsellor, especially if you feel very low. Counsellors are trained to listen and help people talk through their problems. They won’t give advice or answers, but they will help you find your own answers. Talking one to one with a trained counsellor can help you sort out your feelings and find ways of coping with them.

This can be helpful if you aren’t able to discuss your feelings with the people close to you. Some people find it easier to talk to people who aren’t involved with their situation.

GP practices may have their own counsellors, or they can refer you to one. If your employer has an employee assistance programme (EAP), you can contact a counsellor that way.

You can call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 for information on how to find a counsellor. Or you can contact an organisation such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Support groups

Most areas of the UK have cancer support groups for carers. These are usually led by people caring for someone with cancer, sometimes with support from a healthcare professional. Other members of the group may be in a similar position to you. It’s quite usual for a group to include people with different types and stages of cancer. You may find this wider experience helps you see your own problems from a different perspective.

Our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 can let you know about support groups in your area. You can also search for them here.

Some people find groups very helpful and form close relationships with other members. However, others get embarrassed or uncomfortable when talking about personal issues with strangers. If groups aren’t your style, don’t worry.

Online support

You may want to join an online support group or chat room. There are a number of these groups. Some are aimed at particular types of cancer, while others are more general. There are groups specifically for carers, relatives and friends.

You can exchange messages with other people or, if you prefer, you can just read other people’s posts. These messages can be both uplifting and sad. They can help you feel less alone and more able to cope. And they are a good way to find other people who are in similar situations.

On our online community you can talk to people in our chat rooms, blog about your experiences, make friends and join support groups. You can share your own thoughts and feelings, and get support from others.

Spiritual and religious support

Some people find that they become more aware of spiritual or religious feelings during stressful times. This may cause them to question their faith, values and beliefs.

If you or the person you’re caring for already have a strong faith, this may give you a lot of comfort and support, but it can also be a source of uncertainty.

If you think that it might help you both to talk to someone, such as the hospital or hospice chaplain or a religious leader, don’t be put off because you aren’t sure what you believe or haven’t worshipped regularly. Spiritual and religious leaders are used to dealing with uncertainty. They are usually happy to talk and to give whatever support and comfort they can.

Write your feelings down

Writing about your feelings can help you express yourself, especially if you find it difficult to talk about how you feel. If you have fears or anxieties, writing them down may help you let go of them or come back to them another time. You could try keeping a diary, blogging or using social media. You can also join our online community.

Get information

Learning more about the cancer can help you have realistic expectations and help you understand what you can do to help.

Looking after yourself

Be active

Regular exercise – even just short walks – can help reduce stress. It can also help you keep fit and healthy. Exercising with other people is a good way of getting out and spending time with people. You may want to join a class or a club. Find something you enjoy so you continue with it.

Eat well

Try to eat healthily. If you can, make time to prepare and sit down for a cooked meal every day. If you don’t have time, perhaps you could ask a friend to help you. And remember to treat yourself to your favourite foods sometimes too.

Keep to your usual routines

Doing familiar things can be reassuring and help you feel more in control. Try to stick to your usual routines as much as possible.

Keeping up with hobbies, interests and social activities can also help you cope. This might be hard to do if you are the main carer for someone with cancer. If this is the case, it’s important to get some help with your caring responsibilities. We have more information on how to get support if you’re looking after someone with cancer.

Find ways to relax

Relaxation can help calm the body. You could try:

  • deep breathing
  • muscle relaxation exercises
  • listening to relaxing music
  • imagining yourself somewhere safe and calm
  • physical activity, such as walking or swimming
  • complementary therapies, such as massage.

Some Macmillan centres offer free complementary therapies to people with cancer and their carers. Find your nearest Macmillan centre. Some charities offer complementary therapies for people affected by cancer. This can include family members and carers.

If you need help learning how to relax, talk to your GP. They can tell you what resources are available locally. You can also buy relaxation books and CDs online.

Be kind to yourself

Find time to do something you enjoy every day. This may be watching a favourite programme, reading a magazine or setting aside some time for a hobby.

Try to find time to talk with and meet friends or relatives on a regular basis. It’s good to do this even if you don’t feel like it. Spending time with other people can help lift your mood if you feel down.

Notice your successes – even the small ones. This will help build your confidence more than criticising yourself.

Take breaks

Having some time for yourself can help you to relax and feel able to cope better. This can help the person you’re caring for too.

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.

Make time for you

When you get time off, it’s important that you relax or enjoy yourself doing something different. You may feel tempted to spend time cleaning the house or doing the washing. 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, having a drink with a friend or going to the cinema. The main thing is to do something that you want to do and switch off for a while.

I committed myself to going to the gym, to practicing meditation and joining a support group. By doing this, it brought me to a sense that I was not alone.


Back to When someone close to you has cancer

How you might feel

When someone close to you has cancer, it’s natural to feel lots of strong emotions.