Emotional support for families

It can be a shock when you find out that someone you know has pancreatic cancer. This information explains how to get support.

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


Key facts

  • A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be devastating for you and your family.
  • We are here for you and your family with emotional support.
  • If you’re caring for someone with cancer you should also have access to help and practical support.
  • It’s important that you take time out for yourself.
  • It is not a sign of weakness to ask for or accept help. It may actually make it easier to care for your loved one.

How might I feel?

Finding out that someone you know has pancreatic cancer can be devastating. It can be scary and you may worry about what the future holds. You may feel like this for some time.

We are here for you, to offer support and practical information. We support family members, carers and anyone who might be affected by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

You might feel like you need to put on a brave face and be positive for the person with cancer. In reality, caring for someone can be exhausting, stressful and can feel isolating.

Everyone is different, but some common experiences include:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • finding it hard to sleep
  • worrying about work or money
  • not eating enough
  • not taking any time for yourself
  • becoming unwell
  • depression and anxiety.

It’s important that you take some time for yourself. It’s easy for your own needs to get pushed to the bottom of the list. Especially if you are juggling other things like looking after children or working. But research has found that if you take time to take care of yourself, you may find it easier to care for the person with cancer and to cope.

Speak to our nurses

Speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or worries, and to get support when you need it. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking on the phone you can also email them.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse, Lisa, talks on the phone to offer support.

Anxiety, depression and burnout

It is normal to feel sad, worried, angry or down if someone you care about has pancreatic cancer. But sometimes caring for someone with cancer can lead to anxiety and depression.

If you feel that you are struggling to cope, it might be worth speaking to your GP about what support you can get. And remember that you can contact our nurses on our Support Line at any time. They can talk and listen for as long as you need.

Some carers may also develop ‘burnout.’ Burnout is exhaustion from being physically and mentally stressed for a long time. Getting emotional and practical support can help with avoiding burnout.

“Even if you are surrounded by people, you’re still very much isolated from what’s normal”

Debbie

Anticipatory grief

If your loved one has advanced or inoperable cancer, you might experience anticipatory grief. This is where you start to grieve for the loss of the person you love before they die.

This is very difficult, but it is how many people react when someone they love has cancer.

The organisation Cruse have more information about getting help for anticipatory grief. You may be able to get pre-bereavement support for you and your family from your local hospice or organisations such as Maggie’s. Hospices are not just for end of life care. Many offer support for families before this stage. This can help you and your family prepare for loss and for what the future might hold.

Find out more about coping with grief and sources of support.

What can help me deal with the emotional impact?

Looking after yourself

Taking time to look after yourself may help you better cope with caring for your family member.

How you do this will be different for everybody. These tips have come from other people caring for someone with pancreatic cancer.

  • Having a space where you can let your emotions out can be helpful. To be able to shout, scream, or cry may help you process how you are feeling.

“I only allowed myself to get emotional in the shower. I saw that as my place to break down.” Emma

  • Think about what you can and can’t control. There will be some things you won’t be able to change. It can be useful to talk to someone like a counsellor to help you work this out.
  • Give yourself time to rest and relax. You need space to deal with what’s going on, and to let your mind and body recover from the impact of caring.
  • Look after your own health as well. Try to eat well, and be active when you can, even if it’s for short bursts like going for a quick walk.
  • Getting enough sleep can be hard when you’re caring for someone. Getting practical support can help make sure you have time to rest and sleep.

“I needed to be there for her and I needed to be strong. So actually, listening to my body and resting was very important.” Debbie

  • The NHS has lots of information, tips and apps that can help you cope with stress and anxiety. And Mind have information about looking after yourself when you are caring for someone.
  • Connecting with others who have had similar experiences can make a big difference. You could connect through our discussion forum, our online support sessions for carers, or a support group.

“It was comforting to listen to others and their views and thoughts and emotions and how they feel.” Kika

“Online support was really helpful. Groups and forums helped me understand what others had gone through and gave me a sense I wasn’t alone.”

  • When someone you love has cancer, it can make you question the bigger things in life. You may find meaning through your daily life, such as connecting with nature or speaking to others. Some people find comfort in their faith, or exploring spirituality. If this is important to you, you could speak to a chaplain at the hospital or faith leader in your community.

Order our leaflet on looking after yourself

Our short leaflet has key facts and tips to help you deal with the emotional impact of caring for someone with pancreatic cancer, and get support. You can download it here, or order a printed copy.

Order our leaflet
small image of the leaflet cover showing a man and woman standing together

References and Acknowledgements


References

Email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk for a list of sources used to write this information.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on emotional support for families.

  • Achla Damania, GP, Cheshire
  • Agnieszka Jaworska, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist, Northwick Park Hospital
  • Jonathan Hartley, Accredited Counsellor, Supervisor, Trainer, Consultant, Rixon Therapy Services
  • Lucy Davidson, Counselling Psychologist, Perci Health
  • Maria Tynan, Macmillan Specialist Dietitian, Southern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Niall Gallagher, Community Specialist Palliative Care Social Worker, Southern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Ollie Minton, Macmillan Consultant in Palliative Medicine, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses

Updated August 2022

Review date August 2024