Someone asked me this question earlier in the week, and I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more. Supporting someone close to you through cancer is liking riding a rollercoaster wearing a blindfold. You find yourself navigating their emotions and reacting appropriately, whilst also dealing with your own emotions, never knowing what is around the corner. It can be exhausting, but it’s a rollercoaster you willingly ride over and over again. It’s easy for people to ask how your loved one is, but do they ask how you are?

What people may not see is the exhaustion of trying to juggle normal life, work, and social activities with your heart wrenching need to be close to your loved one at all times. You can find yourself turning things down or changing plans to attend hospital appointments. You feel guilty for going out and enjoying yourself when your loved one is too exhausted to even think about it.

The role of the supporter looks different to everyone. It depends on what your relationship is, whether you live with them, are close by or have a long distance between you. Either way everyone’s role is important and everyone’s emotions are important. Some people travel long distances to spend a hospital treatment afternoon watching films and eating ice cream together, which is both exhausting and expensive. But worth it. Some people will be filling up their loved ones freezer with home cooked goods for the bad days ahead, spending hours on the phone talking, or sending them jokes and silly pictures to distract them. All of the above show your loved ones how much you care, how much you want to help and how much you love them.

There is always the worry that you say no to your other friends too many times, and you will not be invited to the next social event. You find yourself making excuses, having a headache, the kids wouldn’t go to bed, you left work late. All to avoid telling the truth; your head is somewhere else, and you can’t stop thinking about what your loved one is going through or the fact that you feel guilty for doing something fun. Talking openly and honestly with friends allows you to release the guilt. They are still there, and by talking about how you feel will allow them to understand and support you. Yes, you are an important piece of this difficult jigsaw.

What is self-care? Self-care is stopping and looking out for yourself. Your emotions and feelings are important and dealing with them will enable you to support your loved one with more focus and energy. Self-care may be as simple as an exercise class, a bath or just a few minutes laying with your eyes closed. It may be indulging in a good book or having a chat with a friend. Please remember to look after yourself. Reaching out to people you can confide in, or to people in a similar situation to you is a way of helping yourself.

If you have a friend supporting someone through cancer please remember to keep contacting them, don’t give up on them. They need you more than you think.