The older and younger person as supporter

The older person as the supporter

If you are an older person supporting someone with cancer, you may have difficulties with your own health. You may feel like you are the only one who can do the supporting.

You may need to think about:

  • getting help with practical needs, such as housework, shopping, equipment, showering/bathing or meals
  • how you will take on new tasks that you are not confident about, such as driving in the city, managing appointments or finances
  • looking after your own health with regular visits to your GP, dentist, optician or other specialists
  • keeping your family involved. You may be surprised about what they can do, such as helping with making changes to appointments, transport, running errands or coming to appointments with you. Often people want to help, but aren’t sure how to. If there are some things they can take on, it can take the pressure off you and they will feel good for helping
  • having regular breaks such as going for a walk or having a neighbour in to sit with the person you’re supporting. Talk to a social worker or your GP who can assess your needs as a supporter.
  • having someone to talk to about how you are coping
  • looking for online support. Visit the Carers NZ website www.carers.net.nz.
  • having after-hours phone numbers handy
  • talking to the healthcare team about getting information about treatment
  • checking your understanding of medications the person with cancer is having
  • recognising your strengths and limitations. Older supporters can receive further support over the phone, on the internet or in person. Contact a nurse on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

“I found going to the beach and being alongside water was very helpful.” - Mark 

Young people as supporters

Being a young supporter can affect your life in many ways. You may find that you can’t concentrate at school or college, and that you don’t have as much time to study. It could be hard to keep up with your friends. You may have to cancel plans to look after the person who has cancer.

As a young supporter, you might do extra things to help your family – things that your friends won’t necessarily be doing, such as:

  • making dinner
  • washing the dishes
  • cleaning the house
  • doing the food shopping
  • washing clothes
  • looking after brothers or sisters.

You may also be asked to do things for the person who has cancer, such as helping them get dressed or helping them with their medicines. You may be ‘there for them’ to listen when they need to talk.

You may be worried about what’s happening at home when you’re not there. You may feel angry with the person you’re looking after. You may feel neglected, and then feel guilty for feeling that way.

Being a young supporter is a big responsibility. And that can, sometimes, be really hard. But positive things can also come out of the experience. Things like becoming closer to the person you care for, learning new skills and feeling more mature.

It’s very important to remember to look after yourself. You may feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, or that you have to be strong for others. But you should only ever take on as much as you can handle.

Tips from other young supporters 

If you’re feeling stressed out, talk to someone. It could be a friend, a teacher, another family member or psychologist/counseller.

  • You may want to let your school or college know what’s going on. There may be times when you need extra help with your work, or when you need time off. Your teachers can only support you if they know what’s happening at home.
  • Make time for yourself. Do something that takes your mind off the situation, like playing sport, spending time with friends, painting or walking the dog. Remember, you’re still allowed to enjoy yourself. Many people feel guilty for feeling happy or having fun, but it’s very important to allow yourself this.
  • As a young supporter, if you don’t feel comfortable doing something (for example, helping someone go to the toilet) you can say ‘no’. This might be important if the person with cancer tends to confide in you about their feelings. Ask their permission to say ‘no’ if there are times when it all feels too much for you. It might help to encourage them to have more than one person they can talk to (for example, a counsellor). Contact your local Cancer Society for information on talking to a counsellor.

For more information you can download Macmillan UK’s complete handbook Let’s talk about you, which is available on the Macmillan Cancer Support’s website at this address: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/Cancerinfo/Ifsomeoneelsehascancer/Letstalkaboutyou.pdf