The purpose of our study was to describe the experiences of family caregivers of cancer patients using the public healthcare system in South Africa. We used a qualitative descriptive design and conducted in‐depth interviews with 20 purposively selected family caregivers. Data saturation determined the sample size, and qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the data. Three themes arose from the data: emotional responses and feelings towards the cancer diagnosis, fulfilling the role of the caregiver and living and coping with a changed life and a changed person. Caring for a person with cancer was not easy. Participants were overwhelmed with the care responsibilities, which were aggravated by poverty. Some felt emotionally broken and alone in this journey and experienced the rest of their family as uncaring. The lives the participants knew changed and they had to put their own lives on hold and make sacrifices involving their children, work, possible relationships and their normal activities to care for the sick person. For some, the sick person they cared for changed and became a person they did not know. Most participants used religious practices to cope with their situation; however, some used other coping mechanisms, such as recreation and even smoking.