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Family members

This information is for anyone looking after someone with pancreatic cancer. You may hear yourself described as their carer. You may not see yourself as a carer – you may simply see yourself as their partner, family member or friend. But a carer is anyone who looks after a family member or friend, unpaid, and provides support that that person couldn’t manage without.  

Many family members are so busy helping the person with cancer, they ignore their own needs – including the emotional impact of having a family member with cancer. This section has information on how you can find emotional support, including support groups, counselling and finding support for children. You may also wish to learn more about managing symptoms and side effects of pancreatic cancer.

All our information and services are available for family members as well as people with pancreatic cancer. And our booklet, Caring for someone with pancreatic cancer: Information for families and carers, can help you find support for yourself and your family member. Download or order a free copy below.

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If you have any questions, speak to your family member’s doctor or nurse. Or you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

How you might be feeling

When someone close to you has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer you will probably have different feelings at different times. These might include shock, distress, fear, confusion and denial. It may be hard to know what you feel, or how to explain your feelings to others. You may feel that you don’t know what to do, or that you don’t know enough about pancreatic cancer to help them. If your family member has been unwell for some time, you may even feel a bit relieved that at least now you know what is wrong with them. There is no ‘right’ way to feel, and how you react will be very individual to you.

When you are caring for someone with cancer, you might think that your feelings come second to theirs, or you might be too busy to think about how you are feeling. Your family member may be everyone’s focus, but that doesn’t mean that what you do as their carer is not appreciated.

You may think that you always have to be the strong one who copes with everything. And you may find it difficult to talk to your loved one about their cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support have information on talking about cancer.

People tell us that one of the hardest things can be feeling that you are the only person in this situation. But you are not alone. Many others are going through similar experiences, and there is support available. Make sure you get support when you need it.

''I first felt bad for asking for so much help, but I realised I needed it for my Mum, for my family and for myself. There is no shame in needing help and asking for it. I ended up having help from Macmillan, Pancreatic Cancer UK and Marie Curie.’’

Who can you contact for emotional support?

Getting some support for yourself can be helpful. It can also help you support your family member better. Your family and friends can be great sources of support – just having someone to talk to can be a huge help.

The medical team looking after your family member can also help – especially their main contact or specialist nurse who can provide emotional support. If your family member is being cared for at home, their main contact may be their GP or community nurse – such as the district nurse.

Asking your family and friends for help with tasks like shopping, cleaning, or looking after children can be a big help. Make sure you have breaks from caring and look after yourself – try to see friends and do things that you enjoy. And try to get enough sleep and eat well.

“The most helpful support was the visits from dad’s friends, which allowed us time to do practical jobs such as washing.”

“I emailed close friends with all the details, which acted like a diary; it helped me cope.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK services

Our specialist nurses on our confidential Support Line speak to lots of family members and friends, and understand the issues and concerns you might have. Their expert help will support you in coping with pancreatic cancer.

You can also chat to others affected by pancreatic cancer on our online forum, read real life stories written by family members and carers, and download or order our information covering everything you need to know about pancreatic cancer.

Read more about the support services we provide.

Support groups

There are cancer support groups around the country where you can meet other people going through similar experiences. They are often open to families as well as the person with cancer. There are also support groups for people caring for someone with cancer. Your family member’s nurse will know what groups are available in your local area. 

Organisations supporting carers

There are organisations that offer information and support for carers across the UK. These include Carers UK, Carers Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support.

There are also carers’ centres that provide free support for carers. Carers Trust have more information, or ask your local council if there’s a carers’ centre in your area. In Scotland, England and Wales carers can also visit a Maggie’s Centre for emotional support. In Northern Ireland, an organisation called Cancer Focus Northern Ireland can provide information and support.

Counselling 

It can be emotionally draining when someone close to you has pancreatic cancer. People often find their own ways of coping, but you might find counselling helpful.

Counselling gives you a safe place to come to terms with your feelings, and helps you find ways to cope. You may be able to find a counsellor who specialises in supporting carers through your GP, hospital or hospice. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has information about counselling, and you can search for a counsellor who deals with cancer.

"I had access to an advice line at work; I spoke with my doctor three times, and joined a support group. I focus my energy into doing positive things which has helped me."

Support for children

If you or the person you are caring for has children or grandchildren, you may need support for them as well.

  • Macmillan Cancer Support have a booklet, Talking to children and teenagers when an adult has cancer.
  • Maggie’s Centres offer support to help you talk to children about cancer, and provide specialist support for families.
  • The Fruit Fly Collective have a range of information and tools to help children with a parent who has cancer.
  • Teenagers may find it easier to talk to their friends or another adult outside the family, or find support online. RipRap is a website for teenagers who have a parent with cancer.
  • In Northern Ireland, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland provide support to children and young people who have a family member with cancer.
  • Winston’s Wish provides information and support for children with a parent who has a serious illness, or who have been bereaved.
  • Your family member’s nurse may also be able to give you information and advice about talking to children.

For most children and teenagers it is best to be honest and talk to them as much as possible about what is going on. Depending on the age of the child, use language they will understand. Check they have understood by asking them to tell you what is happening in their own words.

Some children and teenagers behave differently, or become quiet and withdrawn when someone they know is affected by cancer. It can help to let their school know what is happening so they can get any support they need from staff at the school.

How can I help with managing symptoms and side effects?

One of the best ways you can help is by knowing a bit about symptoms, and what to do or who to ask for help.

  • Talk to the GP or nurse – either the specialist nurse, district or palliative care nurse, depending on who your family member sees. It can be helpful to keep a note of any problems or concerns so that you can ask about these.
  • Make sure you can quickly find any contact numbers you have been given, including emergency or out of hours numbers.
  • Read more information about pancreatic cancer symptoms and side effects and how these can be managed.
  • Contact our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They can answer questions, talk through concerns and help you work out what to do or who else to talk to.

Read more about managing symptoms and side effects.

Find out what practical support is available, such as help with transport to the hospital or advice about work and money.

Read about nursing support in the community if you are caring for somebody at home.

Updated September 2019

Review date September 2021

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