Caring for Adults with Cancer and other life threatening diseases

If you are the primary carer for a terminally ill person there is probably no harder job. Juggling the complexities of your own life and caring for an ill person with all of the associated emotional and practical demands will put you under huge pressure.

Here are some simple ideas on how to care for a terminally ill person:

  • Take your lead from the person with the illness. As long as they are able to tell you their wishes, then you can help most by trying to assist in achieving those wishes. Try to respect their need for dignity and control over what time they have left.
  • Accept that this could be a very hard and very long road and you will not be able to do it alone. Seek out the help and advice of professionals, other carers, doctors and hospice staff as well as friends and family.
  • Caring will be your number one priority so make sure you employer knows what the situation is and that you have their support. Many companies offer compassionate or special leave
  • Be prepared for big changes. These changes may include you coming to terms with changes in the personality of the person who is ill, a change in the dynamic of your relationship and you doing things you may never have imagined such as changing soiled sheets. Learning to cope is a process and will not happen overnight.
  • If you don’t know then ask. Doctors and other medical professionals have in-depth knowledge of caring for sick people. If you are unsure then ask them how to proceed.
  • Look after yourself. If you are exhausted, stressed or hungry then you can’t care to the best of your ability. If you need time away then seek out the help of others to give yourself a break.
  • Don’t blame the sick person for the illness or take out your frustration on them.
  • Keep things as normal as possible. Talk about day to day events as you normally would. For as long as possible ensure the person you are caring for has a chance to be involved in conversations and decision making. Share whatever interests you can.
  • Take the pressure off. Keep family and friends informed of changes in the illness or condition of the sick person. However, you should give the sick person the opportunity to communicate with whomever and about whatever they see fit.
  • Sort out the practicalities in advance. Try to anticipate future needs – order any special equipment, deal with insurance, banking and the practicalities of keeping life smoothly running both for you and the person you are caring for.
  • As the end comes closer, you will need to draw on every resource and source of support that you can. It will be incredibly hard and you need to find all the strength you can. If you are struggling to cope with your caring role then seek out support from a professional counsellor or caring organisation.

Remember, above all, that you love and respect the person you are providing care for and you are doing the best you can with the tools that you have. There is no gold standard of care and you shouldn’t chastise yourself if you feel you haven’t ‘got it right’. If you’d like to speak to other people in your position try our forum or caring organisations.

You can also find further help and support at: