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Taking care of carers

There are no magic answers for people who are suddenly thrown into the role of carer. Coming to terms with a family member’s cancer diagnosis is huge and you may feel woefully underprepared.

In order to keep on caring, it is important that you pay attention to your own needs and that you don’t become isolated as a carer. Caring will have a huge impact on your life and your whānau. But being a carer shouldn’t mean doing it alone.

Discuss your new role with relatives, friends or others you feel might be able to help. Some people will be wonderful from the start. Confide in them and let them help. Other people may not be understanding, helpful or know what to do. That shouldn’t be your burden to carry.

It may be helpful to talk with someone who is going through a similar experience to you, and you may benefit from attending a support group. Most of all remember to be kind to yourself.

Advice to help make your role as carer easier

Gather your courage

Take it one day at a time.
First and foremost, you are human

As much as you may want to be strong, you are still human with human emotions that you may not always be able to control, and that’s ok! Finding a safe space where you’re able to express your emotions can be good for your wellbeing.

Find out as much as you can

Ask questions about your loved one’s illness and the medical terms that are often used. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.

Understand that advocates come in many forms

Advocates can be adult children, friends or health professionals. If you feel you and your loved one need support don’t be scared to reach out.

Keep a notebook

Keep phone numbers that you may need to contact handy. Take notes at any doctors’ appointments. Record names, dates and places relevant to your loved one’s healthcare. Keep a record of any health concerns or questions that pop up.

Set short-term goals and rewards

Clarify your most important priorities. Have something positive to work towards to help you and your loved one get through the dark moments. Whether it’s a vacation, attending an important event or going to a concert, having something positive to look forward to is important.

Don’t try to control everything

Because you can’t. Remind yourself that you can do your best, try your hardest and still not be able to guarantee a positive outcome. Be gentle with yourself.

Celebrate the milestones and small victories

You may be in for a long, uphill battle. Each goal achieved, no matter how small, is still a victory. Take time to pause and celebrate. Doing this can help you feel less overwhelmed and allows you to focus on accomplishing the next task on your list.

Don’t let others’ reactions get you down

Many days will be emotionally challenging. There will be times when your loved one will need a shoulder to cry on or someone to vent to. In most cases you are that person. Try to keep in mind that they are turning to you for love, support and sometimes to release pent up emotions. If harsh words are lobbed your way try not to take them personally. The anger will subside. 

Avoid overreacting

It’s natural to want to be overprotective of your loved one. Remember they were an independent individual prior to their diagnosis and is likely to be the same person after diagnosis. Let them do what they can.

It’s OK to have fun

It’s good to laugh and have fun. It’s an important part of life and can sometimes be forgotten. Fun and laughter can help release emotions and get you through tough times.

Take care of yourself

Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself. It’s important to eat well, rest, get some fresh air and exercise. And remember to do things that you enjoy. If you need help, don’t wait until you’re at breaking point — ask for help and get support early!

This article was written by supportive care nurse Tammy Burgess. There's more helpful information and advice in our publication Supporting someone with cancer.