A COVENTRY woman has spoken out after new figures reveal more than half of the people caring for someone with cancer in the region do no receive any support.
Aphra Tulip, aged 24, has joined calls for more help for cancer carers after research by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support showed 58 per cent of family and friends caring for loved ones with cancer in the Midlands do not receive support.
Is is estimated that there are around 340,000 carers in the region, with around one-in-five spending more than 35 hours a week – the same as a full time job – caring for someone with cancer.
And the charity is now concerned the growing pressure on cancer carers could leave them with health problems of their own, such as depression and anxiety.
Aphra was just nine years old when she started caring for her father who had been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
“I had to grow up fast and was even changing my dad’s dressings shortly afterwards,” she said.
“My mum still had to work to provide for my family and this put more pressure on me and my brothers.
“As I got older, I took on more responsibility.
“But knowing my parents had enough of their own problems, I didn’t want to burden them with my fears or worries.
“My mum already had to cope with being primary carer for my dad as well as looking after three children.”
Aphra, who now volunteers for Macmillan Cancer Support in Nuneaton, only told a few close friends about her father’s cancer diagnosis, and believes like her many young carers do not tell their friends about what they are going through.
She added: “I didn’t seek any form of acknowledgement for myself until I was 15 years old – several years after my dad died.
“Young people are less aware of what help is available and share a feeling that no one will understand.
“So my key message to young carers is that it’s alright to ask for help.”
In the last five years, the number of people caring for someone with cancer in the UK has risen to almost 1.5 million – an increase of almost a third.
These cancer carers – aged from as young as 17 to people in their 80s – are spending an average of 17.5 hours a week supporting their loved ones with tasks ranging from giving medication and changing dressings to taking care of finances, to helping with going to the toilet, and eating.
Now Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on the Government to recognise the specific needs of cancer carers and set out a clear plan of how they will be able to get the support they need.
Fran Woodard, Executive Director of Policy and Impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “As the number of people being diagnosed with cancer continues to rise, we will see even more people having to care for their friends and family, so we urgently need to ensure the right support is in place for them.
“Many cancer carers have to do healthcare tasks they’re not trained to do, such as administering medicine, on top of practical tasks such as making trips to hospital, and providing emotional support.
“This is often on top of working and looking after their children.
“At the same time, they are doing their best to remain positive and hold things together, often compromising their own health.”
Mr Woodard explained one reason why carers do not get the support they need is because they do not know it is available.
He explained: “In fact, many don’t consider themselves to be carers because they’re acting out of kindness and love.
“We simply can’t expect carers to keep bearing the brunt so we need to support health and social care professionals to let carers know that there is help available which they’re entitled to.”
Visit www.macmillan.org.uk/carerscampaign to find out more about Macmillan’s carers campaign.