Being there during diagnosis and treatment

It’s difficult to know exactly what the person you’re caring for is going to need before and during treatment. Everyone is different and a person’s needs may vary at different times. Some people will want to be as independent as possible, others will prefer having someone with them.

The diagnosis phase can take some time. Going to hospitals for tests and the feeling of uncertainty can be emotionally tiring. This may have an impact on your work. It may be helpful to tell your manager about your situation.

It’s a good idea to learn about cancer and the different forms of treatment. Finding out about what will happen during treatment will help you think about the ways you can support the person you’re caring for.

Having treatment and caring for someone during treatment are stressful experiences. You may both benefit from having some time alone.

You can offer support in many ways such as visiting the person in hospital and taking them to appointments. You may find it helpful to discuss flexible work arrangements with your manager.

Your relative or friend may still need help at the end of treatment. They may worry that cancer will come back and need emotional support.

Caring for someone during cancer diagnosis and treatment

The person you’re caring for may want you to be with them at different times during their diagnosis and treatment.

Some people like to have lots of independence for as long as possible. Others prefer to have someone with them for most of the time. The amount of support they need may vary from week to week, depending on what’s happening to them and how they’re coping.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to learn more about cancer and cancer treatments, so that you can understand what the person is going through. We have detailed information about different types of cancer and treatments.

Tests and diagnosis

Having tests and waiting for their results can be a difficult time. The person you care for may need a number of visits to hospital before the diagnosis is certain. Tests and appointments can take up a lot of time. You may need to think about whether you will need time off work to be with the person you care for.

You will usually be supporting your family member or friend with their diagnosis of cancer. At the same time, you may be struggling to cope with your own feelings. This could affect your ability to work well and to concentrate. You may need some time off work to get over the shock and to adjust to your own feelings. Try to tell your manager about the situation so they can support you.

During treatment

The support the person you care for will need depends on their treatment plan. They may need to have a combination of different treatments. The cancer team at the hospital will tell them what is involved.

Once you know what will be required, you can think about the support you might need at work. This is a time when flexible working might be useful. It may help to discuss this option with your manager.

The person you care for may need to stay in hospital while they have treatment. If you want to be near them and the hospital is some distance away, this could affect how much time off work you might need.

Treatment may also be given as an outpatient. This means having treatment at hospital without staying overnight. The person you care for may not need you to be with them at every appointment, or may just want you to take them home from hospital. This can depend on the treatment and how they react to it.

You could talk to the person you care for about the most important times they need you to be there. This means there may be times when you do not need to be there. It is also important to think about the help you can get from others.


Some people do not need to stay in hospital overnight after an operation. This is called day surgery. For other types of surgery, a person might need to stay in hospital for a period of time. How long this is for will depend on the type of operation and the person’s recovery.

After major surgery, some people may need to go to hospital for therapies, to help them adjust and recover. For example, this could be speech therapy or physiotherapy.

Regularly visiting the person you care for while they are in hospital can be very tiring, especially if you are balancing this with work.

You may also need time off work to care for them when they come home, or to take them back to hospital for appointments. Try to take time to rest and look after yourself as well.

We have more information about surgery.


Radiotherapy treats cancer using high-energy x-rays. It is usually given as an outpatient. Treatment usually takes place between Monday and Friday, and a course of treatment may take up to several weeks.

Each treatment takes only a few minutes. But travelling to and from hospital, and waiting in hospital for treatment to begin, can add up to a significant amount of time.

If you plan to go to hospital with the person you care for during their radiotherapy treatment, the radiotherapy staff may be able to arrange treatment in the morning or late afternoon. This could mean you will need less time off work.


Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is usually given as an outpatient, but it can take most of the day. Some people may need to go into hospital overnight, or for a few days. The drugs are often given as an injection into a vein (intravenously), or sometimes as tablets.

People usually have a break of a few weeks between treatments, to allow them to recover. Knowing how often the chemotherapy drugs are given will help you when arranging time off work with your manager. The chemotherapy nurse will explain how often treatment will happen to the person you care for. The whole course of chemotherapy treatment may last for several months.

The person you care for may need someone with them at home for the first few days after chemotherapy. It can be hard to predict how they will react until after a session. Their reactions to the treatment might change as treatment goes on. If they experience certain side effects, for example an infection, you need to take extra time off work to care for them.

It is important to tell your manager that some things can be unpredictable, so you may need time off work at short notice.

Other anti-cancer drugs

Targeted therapy drugs interfere with the way cancer cells grow. They are given in a chemotherapy unit every few weeks as a drip (intravenous infusion) or as tablets. The side effects are often easier to manage than with chemotherapy treatment. The treatment lasts for several months.

Hormonal therapies reduce the level of certain hormones in the body, or block their effects on the cancer cells. Most of them are given as tablets, but some are given as injections every few weeks or months. A person will usually take these drugs for several months, or even years. But people usually cope well with the side effects of hormonal therapy.

Helping the person you care for cope with treatment

Treatment can be stressful and exhausting. You may find that the person experiences mood swings that are out of character. It can help both of you to have some time alone.

Planning for visits to hospital

Try to plan for hospital visits and arrange the time off work with your manager well in advance. There are other things you can do to save time or make it easier:

  • Find out how easy it is to park a car, and if it’s free or there are reduced fees for parking. Some hospitals have special arrangements for people with cancer.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time, especially for treatments. There may be delays, and things can often take longer than expected.
  • If you are going to be at the hospital for a while, find out if there is somewhere you can eat, or take a packed lunch.
  • Take something with you to help pass the time while you are waiting.

Help with transport

Some people may need some help with their transport. Some GP surgeries can arrange volunteer drivers, and the hospital may also be able to help.

Some areas have local voluntary groups, which are sometimes called good neighbour schemes. They provide practical help to people in need. This often includes help with transport to hospital or a GP surgery. You could also ask family and friends about setting up a rota for providing help with transport.

Follow-up treatment

Once the main treatments are finished, your partner, relative or friend may have follow-up appointments and further treatment.

This can include things such as ongoing medication and check-ups, scans and physiotherapy.

Many people who have been treated for cancer worry that it will come back. They might think that any new symptoms they have are caused by the cancer, when they may not be related to the cancer at all. This uncertainty can be difficult at a time when they feel they should be getting back to normal.

We have more information on coping with and after cancer.

Back to If you're a carer

Making decisions about care

If you’re a carer, you may sometimes find it difficult to know how much support you should and can provide.

Making decisions about work

If you’re a carer you may want to stop working temporarily or completely. It’s important to consider the implications of your decision.

Your rights at work

It's important to be aware of your legal rights as a carer. Your human resources department may be able to help you.

Carers Week 8 - 14 June 2015

Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of carers in the UK and highlight the challenges they face.