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Taking Care of Yourself

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Your Feelings


You may have trouble accepting that your friend or family member may not recover. You may think that if she keeps getting treatment, something may finally work, or that a new discovery will be made. There's nothing wrong with being hopeful.

Try to listen to your loved one and the doctor to really hear what they're saying. Denying the facts about the cancer may make the patient feel that you don't really understand what's happening. Again, it's okay to deal with things at your own pace. But be aware of the effect this may have on others.


Grief is the process of letting go and accepting and learning to live with loss. Part of the grieving process is feeling extreme sadness. You may feel sad about the losses you've experienced and the life you used to have.

You may begin to feel the loss of your loved one even before he or she dies. This is called anticipatory grief. It's normal to feel sad about the changes you are going through and the losses you are going to have. Common causes of grief include:

  • You may have expected your life with your friend or family member to be different than what you’re faced with right now.
  • You may be feeling sad over the unknowns in the future.
  • You may be grieving the future loss of your loved one and all the changes involved.

Once your loved one dies, grief will become more intense. Everyone is different in how they grieve and in what they grieve for. Let yourself grieve in your own way and time. For example some people:

  • Don't show as much emotion as others when they grieve. They may cry less than you would expect.
  • Withdraw and keep to themselves. Even if they're in public, they may be less talkative than usual.
  • Try to stay busy. They show their feelings by doing things, rather than talking about them.
  • Show their anger more often. They may seem more short-tempered than you're used to them being.

Understand that these feelings of grief are normal. And grief can come up at times when you're not expecting it. Although it can come and go in intensity, grief can last for many months and will vary in intensity. If you feel the need, seek help from hospice staff, a mental health expert, or a support group as you go through the grieving process. 

For other feelings caregivers may have during cancer care, see Coping with Your Feelings.

It’s emotionally exhausting and I never know what to expect. One minute, things are looking up, and a couple of hours later, something happens and I don’t have any answers.


Ask for Help from Others

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You may be faced with new challenges and concerns now that your loved one has advanced cancer. If the illness has been going on for a long time, these challenges may wear you down even more.

Many caregivers say that, looking back, they took on too much. They wish they had asked for help sooner in sharing tasks or seeking support. Many people probably want to help but don't know what you need or whether you want help. And as the cancer progresses, you may see changes in the support you get from others. For example:

  • People who have helped before may not help now.
  • Others who have helped before may want to help in new ways.
  • People who haven't helped before may start helping.
  • Agencies that couldn't help before may offer services now.

Accepting help from others isn't always easy. When tough things happen, some people think they can handle it on their own. But things can get harder as your loved one’s cancer progresses. As a result, many caregivers have said they feel stretched to the point that they can't do it anymore. As simple as it sounds, it's good to remind others that you still need help.

Remember that getting help for yourself can also help your loved one as well as other friends and family.

Keeping a Balance with Visitors

You may have many more people calling you or coming by to visit than ever before. Many caregivers say they feel very blessed when people show they care. But even though you might be very thankful for their love and support, there may be times when you need some space.

Some days I go into my bedroom closet and take a nap. It may sound crazy, but it’s the only way I feel like I’m really escaping.


Some things you can do if you need time to yourself or just with your family are:

  • Let your voicemail pick up the messages.
  • Answer your phone in shifts. Let family members or friends be in charge of calls for a few hours.
  • Put a sign on the door of your home or hospital room thanking people for coming by and letting them know your loved one is resting. Leave room for a note if they want to write one.
  • Have a friend in your home handle visitors while you can be in another part of your home taking care of your own needs.
  • Set up a website to keep people up to date and let them leave messages. Examples can be found at Caring Bridge or Lotsa Helping Hands.
  • Go to a place where you can’t be reached for a while.
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