- There are around 1.5 million cancer caregivers in the UK: Many of these individuals experience hardships because of their circumstances and nearly 2 in 3 say they would benefit from more support.
- Emotional, practical and financial support can help: All cancer caregiver needs will be different, however, offering any form of support can make a significant difference to their wellbeing.
- Professional support can be beneficial: Some cancer caregivers will feel scared or embarrassed about seeking extra help; others won’t know where to turn. Guiding them to professionals and resources can enable them to get the support they need.
In 2016, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that there were almost 1.5 million people in the UK caring for someone with cancer. On average, cancer caregivers spend 17.5 hours a week providing emotional and practical support to people with cancer.
Cancer caregivers often face numerous challenges as a direct result of their situation, including physical and mental health issues, financial pressures, and a lack of recognition of their carer status. Yet despite these hardships, more than half of cancer caregivers receive no support at all and two in three say they would benefit from more help.
If you’re a family member, friend or colleague of someone providing informal care to someone living with cancer, you might be wondering what you can do to assist them. In this article, we discuss ideas for how to support a cancer caregiver and explain the ways such actions can be helpful.
Be an emotional support
Listening to a caregiver’s concerns and being there for them when they need someone to talk to can be invaluable. Showing understanding, and acknowledging their feelings and the challenges they are facing, can make them feel less alone.
If you’re close to the caregiver and the person living with cancer, you could also learn about the specific cancer diagnosis and treatments involved. This knowledge can enable you to provide better emotional support and gain a more comprehensive understanding of what they are both going through.
Empathy is the ability to comprehend another person’s situation and feel what they are feeling. It’s an important contributor to effective emotional support for cancer caregivers as it helps to create and solidify vital social connections. However, demonstrating empathy is a skill and it can be easy to make honest yet detrimental mistakes.
When speaking to a cancer caregiver about their situation, pay attention to their body language and non-verbal cues as much as you do to what they say. Allow yourself to be honest about your own feelings in response but try to avoid relaying your own or others’ experiences of cancer as a way to show empathy. Although well intended, it can cause additional worry or lead to the caregiver feeling like you don’t understand them.
Offer financial assistance and resources
Cancer treatment can be financially draining, and caregivers often struggle with the burden of associated expenses or the loss of pay that comes from being a cancer caregiver. Around 30% of carers say their income or household finances are affected by caring, with some of the most common costs including travelling, reducing their working hours and lost wages.
If you’re able to help, consider offering financial assistance or directing them to resources such as local charities, government programmes or support organisations that provide financial aid to those with cancer and their families.
Assist with practical tasks
Cancer carers who are coping with cancer in the family are providing more hands-on care than ever before. An estimated 38% undertake healthcare tasks, such as administering medications, with one in ten helping a parent with personal hygiene and eating. Cancer caregivers also routinely cook, clean, and do other chores for those they care for, despite having these same responsibilities for themselves.
Offering to help with practical tasks and errands, such as grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning the house or taking care of other family members, can help them focus their attention where it’s needed most. Tasks like these can pile up and become overwhelming for caregivers, so any assistance can lighten their load.
Provide respite care
Around 62% of cancer caregivers say their social lives are affected by caring and many are navigating exhaustion and burnout. Offering to spend time with the person with cancer can provide the caregiver with a much-needed break. Even just a few hours can allow a cancer caregiver to recharge a little, take care of themselves or spend time doing something they enjoy, such as going for a coffee with a friend or taking a walk with the dog.
Create a support network
Caring has a major impact on mental health with 25% of carers saying they feel isolated and lonely, and 45% admitting to experiencing anxiety. That’s why helping a caregiver connect with support groups or online forums can be beneficial. These platforms provide a safe space for them to share experiences, seek advice and find comfort in the company of others who understand what they’re going through. If they are worried about going alone, you could offer to go with them to the first session. If they express concern about leaving the person with cancer without assistance, propose stepping in so that they have the time to engage with a support community.
Consider thoughtful gestures
Being a cancer caregiver is challenging for many reasons and carers can often feel like they lose themselves as all their focus is on being there for someone else. Therefore, thoughtful gestures can go a long way in making caregivers feel seen. Cards, small gifts or care packages will let the caregiver know you’re thinking of them. Even simple acts of kindness, such as bringing them lunch or putting fresh sheets on their bed, can mean a lot.
Encourage them to seek professional support
An estimated 51% of cancer caregivers experience stress and more than a quarter experience depression. Yet many don’t know where to get support for carers and families of cancer patients. You can encourage them to seek professional support, such as counselling or therapy, to help them cope with their feelings and gain the tools they need to deal with challenges. Many cancer support organisations offer services specifically for caregivers.
Perci Health also helps connect those impacted by cancer with specialists. By signing up to our online virtual clinic, cancer caregivers can access on-demand support whenever they need it. Employers wanting to offer cancer care as part of their employee benefits package can find out more about how our platform works for those supporting someone with cancer.
‘Under Pressure The Growing Strain on Cancer Carers’, macmillan.org.uk, July 2023, https://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/campaigns/under-pressure-the-growing-strain-on-cancer-carers-macmillan-cancer-support-september-2016.pdf