Emotional support for family members

If you are caring for someone with pancreatic cancer it's important to find support for yourself too. We explain how to find emotional support for you and your family.

What's in the 'Information for family members' section?

Key facts

  • When someone close to you has pancreatic cancer, you may have lots of different emotions.
  • It can be hard to find time to look after yourself, including having space to think and talk about your feelings.
  • You are not alone and there is emotional and practical support available.
  • Family and friends can be a great source of help and comfort.
  • The medical team can also provide support and help you access services elsewhere.
  • We provide support by telephone and email, online support sessions and our online forum.
  • Our free information can help you understand pancreatic cancer.
  • Other organisations may offer groups or services local to you.
  • Speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or worries.

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. You may feel shocked, upset, numb, scared, confused or worried about the future. It can be hard to know what you feel, or how to explain your feelings to others.

If your family member has been unwell for some time, you may even feel a bit relieved that you finally know what is wrong with them. Or you may feel frustrated or angry at not getting a diagnosis sooner. If someone was quite well before being diagnosed it can be a big shock, and you may find it hard to believe.

There is no ‘right’ way to feel.

When you are caring for someone, it can be hard to think about what you need, or find time to take a break. But it’s important to find ways to take care of yourself too.

At times you may feel very alone and isolated. But there are ways to connect with others who are going through the same thing. There is also support there for you if you need it.

What can I do?

  • Talk to family and friends about how you are feeling. Sometimes just talking can help you make sense of things.
  • Write down how you are feeling. This can help you deal with difficult feelings.
  • Ask for practical help from family and friends with tasks like shopping, cleaning, or looking after children. This can be a big help.
  • If you have questions about how best to care for your family member, talk to their medical team. You can also talk to our specialist nurses on our Support Line.
  • It’s important to take breaks from caring to look after yourself.
  • Join a support group, either with your family member or by yourself.

"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 had help from Macmillan, Pancreatic Cancer UK and Marie Curie."

Who can you contact for emotional support?

Getting some support for yourself can help you cope. It can also help you look after your family member better. Find someone that you can talk to, whether it’s through family or friends, social media, or an online forum.

The medical team looking after your family member can also help you. This might be the specialist nurse, GP or community nurse. They can answer your questions as well as providing emotional support and medical care. Read more about the medical team.

How we can help

We are here for everyone affected by pancreatic cancer. Our specialist nurses on our confidential Support Line speak to lots of families and friends, and understand the issues and worries you might have. They can provide emotional support to you and your family, as well as answering any questions about pancreatic cancer. Their expert help will support you in coping with pancreatic cancer.

As well as our Support Line, our range of services are here when you need them most.

Expert information: Our free information covers everything about pancreatic cancer to help you and your family member understand their diagnosis, ask questions, make decisions and live as well as possible.

Living with Pancreatic Cancer Online Support Sessions: Our online support sessions are hosted by our specialist nurses and will give you and your family member the chance to connect with others who are affected by pancreatic cancer.

Online forum: The forum is a supportive online space where everyone affected by pancreatic cancer can be there for one another at any time.

Real life stories: Read other people’s experiences of pancreatic cancer on our website to find out how they coped with their diagnosis and treatment, and their tips on looking after themselves.


Counselling or ‘talking therapy’ involves talking to a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings. It may help you work through your feelings and find ways of coming to terms with things. There are different ways to get counselling.

  • Ask your GP to refer you.
  • Some organisations for carers offer counselling. You can search for local services on the Carers Trust website.
  • Check whether your local hospital, Macmillan cancer support centre or Maggie’s centre have specialist counsellors.
  • Check the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy for a counsellor who has experience of working with people affected by cancer.
  • Counselling and other types of psychological emotional support can be accessed directly through the NHS England Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. You need to be registered with a GP in England, but you can refer yourself through the NHS website.

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.

Find groups specifically for pancreatic cancer.

There are also support groups for people caring for someone with cancer. We have suggested some organisations you can contact below. Your family member’s nurse may know what groups are available in your local area.

Organisations supporting carers

There are organisations that offer information and help for carers across the UK. These include:

There are also carers’ centres around the UK 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.

Carers can also get emotional support from a local cancer support centre, for example, a Maggie’s Centre or a Macmillan information and support centre. In Northern Ireland, an organisation called Cancer Focus Northern Ireland can also provide information and support.

Communicating with your family member

Whatever your relationship, a cancer diagnosis will mean some things change and that can be hard. Finding ways to communicate will make things easier for you both and can even bring you closer.

It’s a good idea to have an open conversation about what support your family member would like from you and what you can offer. Try not to guess what they think and feel, or what they expect from you. Listen to what is important to them. Being open with each other can help to avoid confusion or arguments over everyday issues.

Make time and space for conversations, so there are chances to talk about how you are both feeling. But keep in mind that sometimes your family member may not want to talk about their feelings, or may not have the energy for a deep conversation. There will be times when one or both of you is feeling upset or stressed and communication may be more difficult. It can help to get support for yourself if this is happening.

You might find that focusing on practical things and agreeing how some situations should be handled can help. For example, you could ask if it’s useful for you to remind your family member to take their medicines, or if there is anything they would prefer you don’t do. It’s a good idea to have these conversations more than once, to check whether anything has changed.

Questions to ask the doctor or nurse

What kind of support can the medical team offer?

What other emotional and practical support is available to me, as a carer?

Are there local organisations that offer support and services to families?

Is there support available for my children or my family member’s children?

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

Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023