Taking care of yourself
When a friend or loved one is diagnosed with bowel cancer, it can have a big impact on you and your life. If you're caring for them, it can sometimes be difficult to find time for yourself. It's important to look after your own health and wellbeing too. Here are some tips to help you cope.
Talk about how you feel
Sometimes, people feel they should put their own feelings to one side and focus on the person with cancer. But taking care of your own wellbeing will mean you're better able to support your friend or loved one.
It's common to feel many different emotions when you're caring for someone. You might feel guilty, scared or angry. Sometimes, people feel they should hide these feelings from the person they're caring for, to avoid upsetting them. But talking to the person about your worries can help to build trust between you and help you both cope.
It's also important that you have other people you can talk to about how you're feeling. This could be a friend, partner, health professional or support organisation. We have a list of organisations who offer support and information at the bottom of this page.
If you're a family member, friend or carer, it can help to talk to other people who know what it's like to care for someone with bowel cancer. You can share experiences and ask questions on the family, friends and carer's board of our online forum.
Carers UK also have details of local groups for carers and befriending services.
You may also find it helpful to journal or write down how you feel.
Get a carer's assessment
If you're supporting a loved one, you might not think of yourself as a carer. A carer is someone that regularly looks after a person who is ill, elderly or has a disability. This includes supporting someone with bowel cancer. A carer may provide practical or emotional support or both. It can be useful to recognise yourself as a carer to access further help and support.
A carer's assessment lets your local council or Trust know what your caring responsibilities are and how you're coping with them. Taking the assessment can find out what extra support and advice you can have to help make your life easier. This can include things like help with caring and housework and connecting you with local support groups. The support available may vary depending on where you live. For more information, see the NHS information on carer's assessments.
How do I get a carer's assessment?
You can usually get a carer's assessment through your local council or through adult social care services. This can be different depending on where you live.
- You can find more information about carer’s assessments in England on the NHS website
- In Scotland, a carer's assessment (for adults) is called an Adult Carer Support Plan. Find out more about the Adult Carer Support plan
- In Wales, a carer's assessment is called a carer's needs assessment. Find out more about the carer's needs assessment
- Find out more about carer's assessments in Northern Ireland
Carers UK has lots of information about the assessment process and how to apply in each nation.
Caring for someone with cancer can be rewarding and can strengthen your relationship. But you may find you have less time for yourself. You may feel lonely if you're not able to see friends or colleagues as often. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Going for a coffee or short walk with a friend can give you a break and a chance to talk about how you're feeling.
It's important to take regular breaks. You could use this time to relax, meet up with friends or do something nice for yourself.
To help you take a break, you can ask friends and family to help care for your loved one. You could also contact your local services or volunteer groups to see what support they offer. You can find local care services on the Carers Trust website. If you've had a carer's assessment, your local council may pay for respite care.
Be kind to yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Try to get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep can help when you're worried or stressed. There are a few simple steps that you can take to help you sleep better:
- Developing a regular routine can help to improve the quality of your sleep. Try to wake up and go to bed at a similar time each day
- Try to cut down on alcohol and caffeinated drinks (such as tea or coffee) in the evening as they can disturb your sleep
- You could also try stretching, yoga or breathing exercises to help you relax before going to bed
- For more tips to improve your sleep, visit NHS Every Mind Matters
Keep doing things that you enjoy
It's important to take time for yourself and do something you enjoy. This could be reading a book, listening to music, spending time in nature, or taking a bath. You can get discounts on things like massages, health and fitness classes and holidays at discounts for carers.
Physical activity can help you to manage your stress, help with sleep and feel better. It doesn't have to be structured exercise. Just taking a short walk regularly or mowing the lawn can help to boost your mood. The NHS have a range of free exercise videos to help you keep fit, relax and get stronger.
Speak to your employer
It can help to let your employer know that you're caring for someone with bowel cancer so they can understand how to best support you.
They might be able to:
- Make your working hours more flexible
- Help you find local support services
- Give carer’s leave or career breaks
- Offer wellbeing services or counselling
Speak to your loved one's medical team
You can ask the doctors or nurses about support available, such as, counselling and carers support groups. You can also ask for telephone appointments for your loved one, instead of face-to-face, where appropriate.
Tell your doctor
If you register as a carer with your GP, they can give you more advice, information and support.
- Help with any physical and mental health issues you may be experiencing
- Be more flexible with appointment times to fit around your schedule
- Refer you to useful local services to help with your caring responsibilities
To register as a carer, ask your GP for a GP Carer Registration form. Completing this form will help your GP find out what additional support you might need.
Eating a balanced and healthy diet
Eating healthily can make you feel good and improve your mood. These tips can help you eat well when caring for someone with bowel cancer:
- If you don't have time to go to the supermarket, you may find it helpful to order groceries online
- You can have some healthy ready meals delivered to your house to help save time cooking
- Make larger amounts of food and freeze them in meal-size portions, that are easy to defrost and prepare to save them time and energy
- Planning out meals in advance and writing a shopping list can help make preparing meals quicker and easier
Eating well on a budget
Eating healthily on a budget can sometimes be difficult. Here are some useful websites for eating well without spending lots of money:
- Ten simple ways to eat well and save money from the British Heart foundation
- Eating healthy on a budget: Six top tips from the British Heart Foundation
- Eat well, spend less: Food Fact Sheet from the British Dietetic Association
- Top tips for healthy eating on a budget from BBC good food
- Healthy Eating from the Carers Trust
Support for young carers
If you're a young person, you may be trying to juggle caring for someone with going to school, university or your first job. Caring for someone with cancer can be rewarding but it’s important to have some time to do the things you enjoy. These organisations can help support you:
- The Children's Society can help you understand your rights as a young carer, introduce you to other young carers and give advice about education and employment
- Macmillan Cancer Support has information about your feelings and your relationships
- Sidekick is a confidential helpline for young carers in the UK
- The Mix has information for carers under the age of 25, including a carer's group chat
Speak to your GP if you're finding it hard to cope. They may refer you to a counsellor or offer you medication. You can also find a list of counsellors on the BACP website.
If you need help straight away, you can call the Samaritans at any time on 116 123.
Maggie's provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends. Maggie's has centres at some NHS hospitals as well as an online centre. They also offer a 'Family and Friends' course to help you take care of yourself and your loved one with practical advice.
Phone: 0300 123 1801
Macmillan provides support and information on cancer, money, benefits and work.
Phone: 0808 808 0000
Cancer Research UK has information about taking care of yourself.
Phone: 0300 123 1022
Carers UK provide information and advice on caring, work and financial support for carers across the UK.
Phone: 0808 808 7777
The Carers Trust provide services and support to unpaid carers across the UK.
Phone: 0300 772 9600
Marie Curie provide information on living with a terminal illness, accessing health services, supporting someone at the end of life and coping when someone dies.
Phone: 0800 090 2309
Mind has videos of relaxing and calming exercises.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a register of counsellors and psychotherapists.