Coping with cancer at home

Expert reviewer, Dr Jenny Lesser, Consultant Occupational Physician
Next review due July 2020

A cancer diagnosis and its treatment will probably mean at least some changes to your day-to-day activities. Here we discuss telling your friends and family about your diagnosis, looking after children or grandchildren and tips to help you manage tiredness. Your cancer specialist or nurse will be able to give you advice about coping with possible symptoms and provide further information around managing at home. Do ask them for support if you need it.

Mother and son sitting together

Telling your friends and family

Family and friends can give you practical and emotional support. They can help you at home, take you to appointments and be there to talk to and look after you. But cancer affects the whole family. They will also need time to adjust to your diagnosis and the impact it will have on their lives as well as yours.

A cancer diagnosis affects everyone differently, and that includes your friends and family. There’s no right or wrong way to cope. It can help if you’re honest with your loved ones and tell them how you’re feeling and the support you’d like. Chat with them about your treatment and recovery so they have realistic expectations of what to expect from you and your illness.

Here are some tips to help you talk to your friends and family about cancer.

  • Talk to them in a way that feels most comfortable, whether that’s face-to-face, on the phone, by email or letter.
  • Take your time – don’t rush the conversation and let them ask questions.
  • Don’t overload your loved ones with too much information – it’s easier to take in small chunks in simple language.
  • Be upfront and realistic about your situation – it’s important to manage your loved one’s expectations, so if it’s serious it’s important that you tell them.

Managing tiredness at home

Tiredness can be a side-effect of cancer treatments, a symptom of your cancer, or the result of problems with eating and sleeping. The strong emotions you may feel about having cancer can also be exhausting.

Tiredness can make everyday activities, such as doing housework or the weekly food shop, more difficult than usual. But there are ways to make day-to-day tasks easier. One way is to ask your friends and family for help. Your friends and family may not know what would be helpful for you until you tell them. So even if it doesn’t come naturally, learn how to ask for support when you need it. Most people are pleased to be able to do something to help.

Of course, there will still be chores that you have to manage. Here are some coping tips.

  • Prioritise the tasks you need to do.
  • Spread tasks such as vacuuming or cleaning, out over the week, by doing a little bit each day.
  • Do tasks sitting down when you can.
  • Rest in between tasks and don’t rush them.
  • Make a shopping list before you head to the shops, or try internet shopping instead.
  • Ask for help with packing or carrying your bags when you’re at the shops.
  • Use long handled cleaning tools so you don’t have to bend and stretch.
  • Cook simple meals that don’t need much preparation.
  • Cook more than you need so you can freeze some for another day.
  • Keep stocked up with foods such as tinned soup and pasta sauces, so you can rustle up a quick meal when you can’t face cooking.

There are other steps you can take to help you deal with tiredness when you have cancer.

  • Regular exercise can reduce tiredness related to cancer. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the type of exercise that’s most suitable for you. You can learn more about exercise and cancer on our Frequently asked questions about physical activity and cancer blog.
  • Have plenty of rest but take care not to disrupt your night-time sleep by taking naps during the day. You may find it better to sit quietly rather than lie down.
  • Try audiobooks or listening to the radio, rather than reading a book or watching TV.
  • Join a local or online support group – talking to others who have fatigue and sharing your experience may help.

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Feeling tired from your treatment, as well as having regular hospital appointments, may mean you need help looking after your children.

Try to plan your time and conserve your energy for what’s most important to you. Taking short breaks and getting some rest can really help you to get through a busy day. You may want to ask for help from friends and family or find local nurseries, playgroups or after-school clubs. You may also want to look into these options if you’re responsible for looking after grandchildren, or perhaps nieces and nephews.

Explain to your children, grandchildren or any other children that you usually care for why you may not be looking after them as much as usual. Talking to them about your cancer can help them understand and make them feel less anxious.

Spending time with the little ones in your life may help take your mind off your illness. So, if you’re feeling up to it, take them to the park, play a board game with them, or anything else that you enjoy doing together.

Help and support

Being diagnosed with cancer is distressing for you and your family. Talking to other people about your cancer can help you to feel supported and deal with the emotional aspects of living with cancer.

Specialist doctors and nurses who are experts in treating cancer can provide the support you need. Make sure you let your doctor or nurse know if you have any physical or emotional problems. They may be able to alter your treatment, provide advice, or let you know where you can go for more support.

Your nurse can also put you in touch with support groups where you can meet people who may have similar experiences to you.

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Related information

    • Changes for the family. National Cancer Institute., last updated December 2014
    • How to be a friend to someone with cancer. American Cancer Society., last updated January 2016
    • How do I talk to people about having cancer? American Cancer Society., last updated February 2015
    • If your partner, family member or friend has cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated April 2016
    • Telling others about your cancer. American Cancer Society., last updated April 2016
    • Telling your family and friends you have cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated February 2015
    • Causes of fatigue. Cancer Research UK., last updated May 2016
    • What is cancer fatigue? Cancer Research UK., last updated May 2016
    • What you can do to help. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated May 2016
    • Fatigue. National Cancer Institute., last updated May 2015
    • Managing day-to-day life with fatigue. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated May 2016
    • Cramp F, Byron-Daniel J. Exercise for the management of cancer-related fatigue in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2012, issue 11, doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006145.pub3
    • Support if you have fatigue. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated May 2016
    • Advice on talking to children and teenagers about cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated March 2016
    • Cancer and your feelings. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated September 2014
    • How to talk to others about your cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated September 2014
    • Help from your healthcare team. Macmillan Cancer Support., last updated September 2014
    • Personal communication. Dr Jenny Leeser, Consultant Occupational Physician, August 2017

  • Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa health Content Team, July 2017
    Expert reviewer, Dr Jenny Lesser, Consultant Occupational Physician
    Next review due July 2020

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