How to Cope When a Sibling Has Cancer

How can you help your other children when a brother or sister has cancer?

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is the worst day in the life of a parent. The initial shock, disbelief and panic may fade somewhat with time, but life is immediately changed. Adults, more often than not, are soon forced to come to a place where focus is shifted to action steps necessary to navigate the maze of doctor’s appointments and treatment options that come with childhood cancer. This doesn’t mean that there are not a lot of dark, sleepless nights, but adults have the ability to draw upon experience and perspective to manage their fears and anxieties in way that allow them to function.

From a child’s point of view, however, having a brother or sister sick with a condition that obviously terrifies his or her parents, is totally unchartered territory. Initial confusion and fear may give way to anger, resentment, jealousy and a whole host of other emotions. Parents understandably preoccupied with the sick sibling often do not realize that this can lead to a feeling of abandonment in other children in the family. Taking care of a sick child, especially one with a potentially life-threating condition, is not only time consuming but seriously emotionally draining. There is simply only so much energy to go around.

Things They Need to Know

Because this situation is so new and so foreign to them, children benefit from learning what to expect, both with regard to what may happen to their sibling as well as how to deal with their own reactions. Above all else, they need to know that their feelings matter and that they are still loved, even though it may not always feel that way.

In addition, let them know:

  • Their sibling has a very good chance of getting better. Today, eight to ten children diagnosed with cancer recover, and many go on to lead long, full lives.
  • It is not their fault. It is not anyone’s fault.
  • Cancer is not contagious.
  • It is okay to feel scared.
  • It is okay to feel angry.
  • It is okay to resent all the attention going to the brother or sister with cancer.
  • There is no “right” way to feel. Others in the same situation have struggled with all the same feelings.

It is important that children know that, while this range of feelings is normal, what is not good and certainly not healthy is to hold all of these powerful emotions inside. Everyone in a family affected by cancer needs understanding and support to help them deal with what is happening.

Some things that may help in this process include:

  • Talking with family, trusted friends or a counselor.
  • Recording thoughts and feeling in a journal.
  • Learning more about cancer.
  • Joining a support group and sharing experiences with others of the same age who are in a similar situation.

Caring for a child with cancer and other children in the family at the same time can seem like an impossible task. Others have walked this path before you and managed to survive, but, to do so they realized that to adequately provide for their children’s needs, they had to first find their own source of support. Many have found that support and understanding through the Lexiebean Foundation, which you are invited to visit by simply clicking here.

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