Looking after yourself during radiation treatment and beyond

Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain. Eating well, exercising and relaxing may help to reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Addressing changes in your emotions and relationships early on is also very important.

There are a number of things that might help you to cope, such as:

  • preparing simpler meals
  • being more relaxed about housekeeping
  • asking children, family/whānau or friends to help more around the house.

“I had to allow myself not to feel guilty that the house was messy. It doesn’t matter that the floor was not shiny or spick and span. After a month I realised all these things [a clean house and total order] did not matter. It’s the people inside these walls that mattered.” Silei

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s booklets Coping with Cancer and Eating Well During Cancer Treatment/Kia Pai te Kai te wā Maimoatanga Matepukupuku on our website www.cancernz.org.nz.

Te tiaki i koe anō

Tērā pea ka puta he taumahatanga ā-tinana, ā-kāre nā te matepukupuku. Mā te kai pai, me te korikori tinana, me te whakangohe e āwhina i a koe ki te whakaitit ake i ngā taumahatanga me te whakapiki i tō oranga. He mea nui te tere whakatau i ō kāre-ā-roto me ōu nā hononga tangata.

Mō te roanga o ngā pārongo e pā ana ki tēnei kaupapa, pānuihia te puka a Te Rōpū Matepukupuku ō Aotearoa Coping with Cancer.

 PEXELS women friends friendship helping together 160767

Psychological, social and counselling support

After your diagnosis you may experience many feelings: anxiety, fear, sadness and sometimes anger. You may never have felt this way before, and it can be overwhelming. No matter how you are feeling, support services are available to you.

If you speak to your GP, radiation treatment team or local Cancer Society they can refer you to someone such as a counsellor or psychologist, who can help you to manage these feelings by:

  • encouraging you to talk about any fears, worries or emotions you may be feeling
  • helping you to work through feelings of loss or grief
  • teaching you ways to cope with any anxiety or stress
  • showing you meditation or relaxation exercises
  • suggesting ways to talk with your partner, family/whānau and friends.

During radiation treatment you will see your team every day. When treatment ends you may feel a little anxious or worried because you are no longer getting their regular reassurance and support. This is normal. You may find it helpful to talk about how you are feeling with your family/whānau, a friend, a counsellor or a cancer nurse.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s booklet Getting on with Life after Treatment.

I te wā o tō maimoatanga iraruke, ka kite koe i tō rōpū ia rā, ia rā. Ka mutu ana te maimoa, tērā pea, ka āhua manawa popore koe, ka māharahara rānei koe nā te mea kua kore koe e whiwhi i ō rātou taunaki, i ō rātou tautoko hoki. He māori tērā. Tera pea, mā te kōrero mō ōu kare ā-roto ki tō whanau, ki tetahi hoa, ki tetahi kaitohutohu, ki tētahi tapuhi matepukupuku rānei, e āwhina i a koe.

Mō te roanga ake o ngā kōrero, tirohia te pukapuka a te Kāhui Matepukupuku Getting on with Life after Treatment kei runga i tō mātou paetukutuku (www.cancernz.org.nz).

Social workers

Social workers are available to help support you and your family/ whānau through the social and emotional changes that a cancer diagnosis brings. If you do not already have a social worker, your hospital doctor, GP or nurse can arrange a referral.

Social workers:

  • provide information and support to help you and your family/ whānau to cope with your cancer diagnosis
  • help set up support services so that you can stay independent at home
  • help with accommodation if you need to travel away from home for treatment
  • help make travel arrangements if you are having treatment out of town
  • offer advice and information about financial support available
  • make referrals to other support agencies
  • take part in multidisciplinary meetings that include different health professionals.


Cultural and spiritual support

Hospitals throughout New Zealand have trained health workers available to support your spiritual, cultural and advocacy needs. They may include Māori and Pacific health workers who will work with you and your family/whānau.

Hospital chaplains are available to people of all faiths and no faith, and offer support through prayer and quiet reflection.

Community-based health workers at your local marae and Pacific health services may also be good sources of support.


Interpreting services

New Zealand’s Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights states that everyone has the right to have an interpreter present during a medical consultation. If you do not speak English as your first language or you are deaf, you may find it helpful to use an interpreter when you have your hospital appointments. Speak to a member of your health care team about arranging an interpreter in your local area.


For families/whānau and friends

Cancer can affect your whole family/whānau. When a friend or family/whānau member is diagnosed with cancer, you are also learning to cope with your own feelings and emotions. You may want to help but not know what to do.

Here are some suggestions that may be useful:

  • Learn about their type of cancer and its treatment. This will help you to understand what the person you are supporting is facing. But be careful about offering advice. • Talk about your feelings together and be honest about what worries you.
  • Try not to worry about what to say. Often listening while they talk or just being there with them is a good way to show that you care.
  • Offer to go to appointments with them as a support person. You can take part in the discussions, take notes or simply listen.
  • Respect that your family/whānau member or friend may want to talk to their doctor alone.
  • Try not to do too much. Give them the opportunity to do things for themselves – they will probably appreciate the chance to be useful.
  • Look after yourself and give yourself time to rest. Taking care of yourself will help you to take good care of them.
  • It may be useful to ask one person to be a spokesperson for your family/whānau rather than talk to everyone yourself.
  • Accept that sometimes you will need help from others – do not be afraid to ask for help from other friends or relatives.
  • Consider joining a local support group.
  • Seek counselling if you think it will help you.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s booklet Supporting Someone with Cancer/Te Manaaki i Tētahi e Māuiui ana nā te Matepukupuku .


Palliative care services

Palliative care is not just about care at the end of life. It is for people with advanced cancer and the focus is on improving their quality of life. Support can be offered in a hospital, a rest home, your own home or a hospice, and care is provided by specialist doctors, nurses, social workers and spiritual care workers.

It is a good idea to ask about palliative care early. Being able to deal with any problems or concerns early rather than waiting until they become difficult to manage can help to reduce stress for both you and your family/whānau.

In general, palliative care services are free. However, there may be a charge for the hire of some equipment for home care.

For more information on palliative care, see the Cancer Society’s booklet Advanced Cancer/Matepukupuku Maukaha.

Atawhai Taurima Ka arotahi te atawhai taurima ki te whakapiki i te kounga oranga - kaua ko te atawhai anake mō te wā e whakamatemate ana rātou. Ka taea te whakarato i roto i te hapori, i tētahi hōhipera, tētahi kāinga whakatā, ki te kāinga, ki tētahi ratonga ‘hospice’ rānei.


Relaxation techniques

Some people find relaxation or meditation helps them to feel better. There are many relaxation resources and programmes available. Talk to your local Cancer Society about services in your area.

The Cancer Society has some relaxation resources that are available on CD or through our website:



Research indicates that regular, gentle exercise may help with fatigue and lift your mood. Talk with your doctor about what exercise is best for you.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s pamphlet Being Active When You Have Cancer.


Home care

You may be entitled to assistance with household tasks or nursing care at home during your treatment. Your GP or social worker can refer you to community/district nursing services for assessment.


Cancer support groups

You may find that it helps to talk with others who have had cancer treatment. Cancer support groups offer practical and emotional support and information to people with cancer and their families/ whānau. Ask your hospital or local Cancer Society for information about the support groups available in your area.


Financial assistance

Work and Income (0800 559 009) has pamphlets and information about the benefits and entitlements you may be eligible for while receiving cancer treatment.

For more information, see the Cancer Society’s information sheets: Benefits and entitlements and Benefits and entitlements: What happens when you apply for Work and Income support? on our website www.cancernz.org.nz.

You may also be eligible for assistance with travel and accommodation costs if you need to travel long distances for your radiation treatment. For more information, see the Ministry of Health website  or phone 0800 281 222.


Talking with your children

How much information you share with your children about your cancer and its treatment will depend on how old they are.

The Cancer Society’s booklet Cancer in the Family  gives a detailed summary of the likely level of understanding and possible reactions your children may have according to their age.

If you have concerns about changes to your children’s usual behaviour, help and support are available. Speak with your child’s teacher or school counsellor or ask your social worker for advice.