Emotional support

It can be difficult to cope with some of the strong 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.

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 together

The feelings that you have when someone close to you is very ill can be very strong and hard to deal with. Trying to be open about the way you are feeling may help you to feel more in control. If you can’t do this with the person you’re caring for, try talking with someone else, like a friend or relative. Your feelings may be easier to deal with once you have discussed them.

Many people find it very difficult to be open together in this way, especially when they’re faced with a new and stressful situation. Some carers are uncomfortable about discussing their own feelings with the person with cancer because they don’t want to upset them. Others can’t bear to talk about it because they don’t think they’ll be able to comfort their friend or loved one, or because they’re worried about breaking down and crying in front of them.

Some people are simply not used to talking with each other about their feelings.

There are no right or wrong ways of communicating and often just being there, perhaps giving a hug or holding hands, is enough to show someone that you care. Be prepared for them to talk about their illness if they want to. Often they won’t expect you to provide answers but just to listen and understand so they don’t feel so alone.

If you both find it hard to talk about your feelings, it may be easier to bring in a third person to help you. This could be a trusted friend, a religious leader, a counsellor or one of the health professionals you’ve got to know and trust.

We have more information about talking to and supporting someone with cancer.

‘It’s taken us a long time to get there, but nowadays we can really talk about what’s going to happen and how we feel about it.’ Deborah



The emotions you feel may be very tangled and confused. You may find them difficult to talk about and hard to share with your family or friends. Talking to a trained counsellor gives you an opportunity to talk to someone who is outside your situation. They will listen carefully to what you say, and have the skill and understanding to help you explore your feelings and find ways of coping with them.

Your GP will be able to refer you to a counsellor. You could also contact your local support group or hospital support centre as they may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor.

Join a support group

Support groups are a really good way to talk to others who are in a similar situation. Some groups are specifically for people who are caring for someone with cancer. They give you a chance to talk to and meet up with other carers who understand what you’re experiencing. Even if you can’t go to their meetings, you might find it helpful to talk on the phone.

You can find more information about what support groups may be available in your local area from your local council.

Not everyone who’s caring has the time to go to a support group. So another way to get support and to share your feelings is to join an online forum. Online forums are good because you can be put in touch with loads of people who are in the same situation as you. The best things about forums are that you:

  • can be anonymous
  • can dip in and out when you want
  • don’t have to tell people anything you don’t want to
  • can make online friends

There are plenty of forums for carers and for people affected by cancer. For example, Macmillan’s online community has a forum for carers (macmillan.org.uk/community). Choose one that best suits your situation.

Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community is a place for people affected by cancer to come together, share stories, find information and support each other.

Join Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community is a place for people affected by cancer to come together, share stories, find information and support each other.

Join Macmillan's Online Community

Looking after yourself

It’s important that you look after yourself as well as the person you care for. There are many ways you can do this.

Take breaks

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

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. If there isn’t a relative or friend who can take over for a few hours, there are other ways of getting help – we have more information about how to get more support.

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 off clearing up the house or doing the washing so that you can get ahead on the chores, 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 coffee with a friend, going to the cinema or taking a grandchild to the swings. The main thing is to do something that you want to do and switch off for a while.

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 to prepare a meal perhaps you could ask a friend to prepare you one. Remember to treat yourself to your favourite foods sometimes.

Get some fresh air and exercise

Try to get some fresh air and exercise every day, even if it’s only to go for a short walk. This will help keep you more mentally alert, and may help to reduce tiredness and stress.

Use relaxation techniques

Using techniques such as relaxation and massage help to reduce stress and feel better able to care. You may also like to learn a relaxation technique using relaxation CDs, DVDs or podcasts.

Some people find having a massage particularly helpful and a great way for them to switch off for a short time. It may be that you have a close friend or relative who would like to go with you for a massage at the same time.

Releasing tension

Sometimes your feelings may get overwhelming and, if you can’t cope, it may help to thump a cushion. This doesn’t harm anyone and can leave you feeling a lot better.

Practicing deep breathing may help to reduce stress. Fill your whole lungs with air and breathe in and out slowly at regular intervals.

It can also sometimes help to write down your feelings, as this gives you an opportunity to express your emotions rather than bottling them up.


Many people say that when they’re caring for someone who is very ill they find it difficult to relax at night. You may be thinking and worrying about the person who’s ill and this can keep you awake. It may be that the person you’re caring for is having a bad night, which then keeps you awake. Here are some tips which may help you to have a better night’s sleep.

  • Read a book before you go to sleep – it will focus your mind on something other than cancer.
  • Have a relaxing bath – you could add lavender oil or bath soak to help you relax.
  • Have a warm drink.
  • Listen to a relaxation CD or your favourite piece of relaxing music.
  • Write a diary – if you get all your thoughts out on paper they won’t be quite so busy in your head.

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.

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