Looking after yourself when looking after someone with cancer

Posted 9 Oct 2017.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 2.7 million family carers in Australia. About one-third of these people are primary carers, meaning they provide most of the care for the person they are looking after. Becoming a carer for a loved one or family member who has cancer can be a sudden adjustment or a gradual process. Either way, carers are bound to experience a range of different emotions about their newfound role and responsibilities.

Although all carers respond differently, there are a range of common reactions that carers may experience at some point throughout the caring process, such as:

  • Worry
  • Anger and frustration
  • Stress
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Loss and grief 
  • Satisfaction - although being a carer may be challenging at times, it can also be a very uplifting and rewarding experience.


Looking after the needs of someone else may mean that you begin to neglect your own needs. Our Cancer Information and Support Services Director, Sandy McKiernan, believes that self-care should be a priority for all carers.

"Being a carer for someone with cancer is important work, so important that self-care should be non-negotiable. Keeping some time for yourself, be that your regular exercise, coffee with a friend or just time alone to have a break, gather yourself and check in with how you're travelling can help ensure you stay well enough to do the caring."

Looking after yourself

Looking after yourself will ultimately help you provide a better quality of care to the person you're caring for. You can do this by:

Staying healthy

  • Eat healthy meals and snacks. If the person you care for has long appointments or is in hospital, you may need to plan ahead and bring healthy food from home. Our LiveLighter website provides a range of nutritious and easy to prepare recipes. 
  • Make sure to get enough sleep and rest. Tiredness and exhaustion often make things seem harder.
  • Aim to exercise for 30 minutes each day. This can help to increase your energy levels and improve your sleep. If you can't leave the house, use an exercise bike or yoga mat at home.


Focusing on your mental health

  • Make time for a break every day, even if it's just 10 minutes.
  • Ask family and friends to help out so you can have regular breaks. 
  • Don't hold in how you feel - especially if you're feeling angry or frustrated. Talk to friends, family members, or give our Cancer Nurses a call on 13 11 20. 
  • Be kind to yourself. You may be learning as you go so don't forget to take it easy on yourself.


Taking a break

Respite care allows carers to have a break from their caring role. Respite can range from a couple of hours to overnight or even a few days. Remember that by taking the time to have a break, you'll find yourself rejuvenated and able to care much more effectively. If you'd like to arrange respite care call 1800 059 059 to locate a carer respite centre near you.

Asking for help

At times it can be hard to ask for help but knowing that there's support specifically tailored for carers can make a huge difference. Our 13 11 20 Cancer Nurses are available between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday to answer any cancer-related questions and can put you in touch with our wide range of support services, like:


In addition to our support services, our Cancer Nurses can also suggest some external tools and organisations that may be useful, like:

  • Carers Australia (WA) who provide counselling, advice, workshops and awareness activities and social support to all WA carers. To access these support services call 1300 227 377.
  • Gather My Crew - an online rostering tool developed to make it easier for the friends and family of loved ones in crisis to know what support is needed and when.


For more information about caring for someone with cancer visit our website or call our Cancer Nurses on 13 11 20.



Found in:  News - 2017  | View all news