Priortising self-care for caregivers and family members of cancer patients

This World Cancer Day, it’s high time we also acknowledge the impact cancer has on families worldwide. 

The Singapore Cancer Society shared that an average of 44 people were diagnosed with cancer every day between 2016 – 2020 in Singapore and an estimated one in four people will experience a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. However, a cancer diagnosis does not only affect the life and wellbeing of the cancer patient but also has a big impact on the caregivers and family members supporting them through their illness. 

A diagnosis will have a significant impact on family members and caregivers 

Being a caregiver or loved one to a person having cancer can be emotionally draining. Caregivers share the experience of grief and uncertainty but often suppress their worries due to not wanting to put additional pressure on the patient. This can lead to feelings of isolation, guilt and burnout.  

Many caregivers also neglect to take care of themselves. Prioritising self-care may feel inappropriate but it is the best way to ensure you have the endurance required to be there for your loved one. Make sure you eat well, exercise and get enough rest. Don’t be afraid to ask for help by delegating tasks to others and seek the help of a counsellor if you need to work through complex feelings that arise.  

Self-care for caregivers

  • Reach out for help from friends, family, and health-care providers.
  • Schedule time for self-care: take a break, do something you used to enjoy.
  • Allow yourself to say no: Prioritise your time.
  • Practice mindfulness and be present with your emotions.
  • Seek support in the form of counselling or other support services.

Benefits of seeking therapy

Seeking therapy while you or someone close to you goes through cancer treatment can be helpful in order to help manage and tolerate the emotional distress and help you develop coping skills to guide you through this difficult journey that can often feel very lonely. 

Often, both the person with cancer and the caregivers do not want to be a burden to the other party and would hold back talking about worries, concerns and important practical things that have to be taken care of both in regard to the cancer treatment but also ‘normal’ decisions that have to be made. This can feed into the feeling of disconnection from each other. Therapy can help identify some of these roadblocks and provide tools to overcome them. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be frightening and overwhelming for both the patient and their family. In fact, depressive disorders are two to three times more likely to occur in cancer patients than in the general population. Be aware of the warning signs of depression and try to take extra-special care of your mental and emotional health as you navigate this unexpected path.  

Resources available for cancer patients in Singapore:

  • NCCS Patient Support Programmes are open to all cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers in Singapore. 
  • NCCS Cancer Helpline: +65 6225 5655 and Patient Support Line: +65 6436 8668
  • Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
  • Care corner (for Mandarin counseling)
  • SAGE Counseling (for elderly aged >50 and their caregivers)


Embracing Uncertainty: An Exploration of the Experiences of Childhood Cancer Survivors by Parry, C.

Illness uncertainty, coping, and quality of life among patients with prostate cancer by Guan, Santacroce, Chen & Song

MD Anderson Cancer Centre, University  of Texas, Patients & Family

National Cancer Centre Singapore, Patient Care

The Singapore Cancer Society

The Singapore Cancer Society

To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us

– Written by Bjørg Plougmand