What is Cancer
Advanced Cancer

Practical Concerns

Work and income
You may need time off work to attend medical appointments or to care for the person with cancer. Explain your situation to your employer. Most employers appreciate honesty and will try to accommodate your needs.
Find out your entitlements because you may be eligible for time off. It may be easier for everyone if you have some time off, at least until things settle down and you have a better idea of what is ahead. Some employers will let you take annual leave, long service leave or leave without pay.
If time off is not possible or desirable, talk to friends and family about how they can support you. It may help if you are specific about what you need, for example, transport to appointments, providing company or making meals.
You may be eligible for a carer payment from the government if you provide constant care for the person with cancer (whether or not you work outside the home). Speak to your hospital social worker about the different types and other sources of financial assistance.

Accepting help
Not all your family and friends will know how to respond and provide support – some may not know what to do or even avoid contacting you at first. They may want to avoid thinking about their own death or be afraid of saying the wrong thing, so instead say nothing.
This doesn’t necessarily mean family and friends don’t care; they may just feel unable to deal with the situation. If you like, you could try calling them, explain what is happening or ask them to do a specific task, for example, providing a meal or returning an overdue DVD.
This can help someone feel useful or involved and next time they might feel comfortable enough to call you or just drop in. People sometimes need to be told specifically what they can do.
You may find it difficult to accept help, especially if you are used to managing everything. Try to see it as a strategy for getting through a difficult time. You may choose to think of your requests as letting others feel useful, rather than asking for help.

Carers with young children
Carers with younger children will need support. This does not have to be expensive. Call your local council to find out how they can help you. Social and religious groups and schools can often be good at organising people to cook meals, provide transport and other practical things. Take up offers to help from neighbours and friends.

Emotional and physical strain
Carers need to look after themselves too. Being a carer can be tough, especially over time. Physical wellbeing is often closely tied to emotional wellbeing. Take time to do the things you normally do that help relieve the pressures of the day and give you pleasure. This time-out from caring for a person with cancer strengthens you for the time you devote to them.
Carers often feel like they are on an emotional roller-coaster. Some moments are extreme highs and others extreme lows. On some days, there are times to stop and have a break, but on other days you can feel like you have had enough. At times, you may even find yourself wishing the person would die so you can both have some relief from the disease and its impact.

Providing physical care
Providing physical care is a challenge for many carers. If the person you’re looking after needs help to get out of bed, you will need to be taught how to move them safely. Ask the district nurse, doctor or physiotherapist to show you the best way to do this and take care when you do it, as it’s easy to injure your back.
If the person you are caring for requires more care than you think you can manage, talk to your doctor. Home nursing services and a palliative care team can provide professional help at home.

Practical ideas for carers
  • Use an answering machine to record messages or ask someone else to return calls if you are tired and don’t feel like talking. This avoids having to repeat information for family and friends who like to be kept informed of what is happening.
  • Ask someone to take on the role of information provider. Make sure this person has the latest information.
  • Group emails, sent regularly, are a great way to let people know what is happening.
  • Place a message on the door when it is not a good time for visitors.
  • Turn off the phone and have a rest when the person with cancer is resting.
  • Talk to people you trust about what is happening. It helps them to understand what you are going through, and helps you release any concerns or stresses you have.
  • Make a list of 10 things you like to do and make sure you do one of them each day.
  • Take time out. There will be times when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed. This is normal. Take a book and sit outside, go for a walk or go for a drive.
  • Try not to do everything yourself – leave some tasks for others to do. It is hard to do everything, no matter how organised you are.
  • Be realistic about how much you can do, as doing too much may affect how well you cope. Do what is important and less of what isn’t.
  • Involve friends and family in the caring.
  • Call the Resource and Wellness Centre at 03-2698 7300 to get in contact with someone who has had a similar experience.
Reviewed By:
Dr Kathy Pope, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Abbott, Cancer Care Dietitian, Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Frances Bellemore, Clinical Care Nurse, St Vincent’s Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, Telephone Support Group Facilitator, Cancer Council NSW; Helpline and Cancer Counselling Service staff, Cancer Council QLD; Di Richardson, Consumer; Dr Mary Brooksbank, Philip Plummer and Claire Maskell Gibson on behalf of Palliative Care Australia.