Taking care of yourself

Sometimes caring for someone who is sick can be exhausting. You might have other responsibilities such as a job, taking care of children or be busy with day-to-day tasks like housework and preparing meals. It is not unusual for carers to become tired and stressed, so take care of yourself from the start. You may not even realise that you are stressed.

If you are feeling tired, tearful or angry and finding it hard to cope, it is important to admit it.

Here are some tips below on how to look after yourself:

Get organised

Life can suddenly become very busy when a loved one becomes sick. Use a notebook and make lists of what needs to be done. This will help you prioritise the important things. The Irish Cancer Society has also produced a useful notebook called the Journey Journal to keep track of tests, appointments, treatments, etc.

Call our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre to ask for a free copy, or download the Journey Journal here.  To find out where your local Daffodile Centre is, email daffodilcentreinfo@irishcancer.ie

Regular family meetings can help, if that works for you. They can ensure that everyone is working together. Don't forget to include your loved one and ask them what help they would like. You could also ask the medical social worker at the hospital for advice about family meetings. 

Know your limits

Remember; you can't do everything on your own. It's okay to ask for help. If you are finding it hard being a carer, tell your other family members, friends and your loved one. Make sure the work of caring is shared out fairly.

Look after yourself

It’s important that you get plenty of rest, eat well and take exercise. Don’t feel guilty about looking after yourself. Simple things like going for a 30-minute walk every day will keep you fit and alert. It will give you a break from your role as carer and give you more energy to support your loved one. If you feel you aren't coping and are losing your appetite, not sleeping or feeling unwell, talk to your GP.

Stay healthy

It's normal to worry that you might get cancer as well. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of cancer.

  • If you smoke, plan to quit
  • If you drink alcohol, cut down on the amount
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Protect your skin from the sun and avoid sunburn
  • Tell your GP if you notice any changes in your body

If you'd like to give up smoking, and would like advice or support, call the HSE Quit Team on Callsave 1800 201 203 or Freetext QUIT to 50100.

If you're worried about your risk of cancer, talk to your family doctor (GP) or call our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700. You can speak to one of our cancer nurses in confidence for advice, support and information. Or you can visit a Daffodil Centre for advice and support. To find out where your local Daffodil Centre is email daffodilcentreinfo@irishcancer.ie

Find out more about how you can reduce your risk of cancer.

Take time out

Some people find it useful to keep a diary and write down how they are feeling. If you're not comfortable with this, try to talk to someone. It's important to have support from friends, family members and others that you can turn to when you are tired and stressed. Try to plan outings and meetings that don't involve discussing your loved one. It's okay to need a break.

Go easy on yourself

This is a very difficult time so remind yourself that you're doing the best you can. Being a carer isn't easy. Recognise signs of stress and ask for help if you need it. Remember that giving care to a loved one when they are sick is makes a difference to them in one of the most difficult times of their life.

As a carer, you may experience many different feelings, some of them very negative. These include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed: Becoming a carer can be a sudden and dramatic change to your life. So it's normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Let other carers, family and friends know your feelings and try to share out the role of caring fairly.
  • Guilt: Witnessing a loved one become sick is not easy. You may feel that you're not doing enough. You may even feel guilty that they got sick and not you. Many carers feel like this. Try to talk to someone about how you're feeling. Know that you're doing your best. Rather than focusing on these feelings, try to think about positive ways  you can help.
  • Anger: Anger is a very common feeling for both patients and carers. You can be angry for many different reasons, including the cancer itself and the changes it has brought into your life. Anger can affect your ability to think clearly. It can help to talk to someone and work out why you are feeling angry. If you're finding it hard to talk to your family and friends, discuss your feelings of anger with your GP.
  • Sadness: As well as dealing with new responsibilities, you have to deal with the sad news that someone you love and care for is sick. This can be very difficult. Try to share your feelings with a friend or family member.  Be as honest as you can with your loved one. They will probably be feeling this way too.
  • Anxiety: Carers can feel anxious for different reasons. You may feel overwhelmed at your new responsibilities or take on your loved one’s worries. Talk to them and to other carers about your concerns.

Find support

There are several organisations that provide support for carers. Your GP, local cancer support centres, counsellors, online communities and our cancer nurses at our  Daffodil Centres and our Cancer Nurseline are all there to help you and your family and friends.

To talk to a Cancer nurse in confidence, call our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700, or visit a Daffodil Centre,  You can also visit our website at www.cancer.ie for more information and to look at our online community. See our section on support.

Useful websites

The following websites may provide helpful supports and information to you as a carer.  Please note that the Irish Cancer Society is not responsibile for any information that may be posted on external sites:

You may be able to access free caring supports, including respite and palliative care, if you discuss your needs with a Public Health Nurse in your local Health Centre. To find your local health centre see here:  http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/1/LHO/

Find out more

Visit our Caring for someone with cancer section for more information on all aspects of caring.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Thursday, December 22, 2016