For Any Cancer Diagnosis
Q. I'm looking for support for my teenage son to help him deal with his sister's cancer. Can you recommend any specific places?
A child with cancer can change family dynamics and these changes are often difficult for siblings. It can be challenging for parents to focus on the needs and concerns of their other children, which can lead to siblings feeling “invisible” or alone. Siblings often experience many emotions in this situation such as: fear and anxiety, anger, jealousy and resentment, loneliness, guilt, sadness and grief.
It is important to talk with your other children about cancer while also giving them a safe space to share their feelings and worries. Getting help is important as well; you do not have to learn to cope alone.
In linking your son to support systems it will be important to:
- Reach out to a social worker where your daughter is receiving treatment; they might be able to refer you to a local support group for siblings
- Check out SuperSibs, an organization designed specifically to give support to siblings of cancer patients. Their website has resources and tips as well as camps and events that help connect other siblings going through a similar experience
- Look into an online support group. CancerCare offers an online support group for teens who have a loved one with cancer. This support group is run by a licensed oncology social worker and is designed to create an environment where teens can share and connect with one another
If additional support is needed, you can reach out to an oncology social worker through CancerCare’s Hopeline (800-813-HOPE) for additional information.
Q. My 6-year-old son is getting treatment for leukemia. He is getting so much attention right now that his older brother is feeling left out. What can I do?
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a frightening time for the whole family. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for siblings to feel like their needs are being neglected. They may feel jealous, angry, frightened, or have other strong emotions.
Here are some tips for helping siblings manage:
- Make time to talk to individual siblings. Ask them how they are doing, and take time to really listen to them.
- Invite siblings to join you in fun activities. Siblings need to laugh, have fun, and be themselves, especially during this difficult time.
- Send emails or cards to siblings to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Encourage siblings to choose a special support person. Then, help them connect with that person. Keep in mind that they may want you to be that person.
The key is not to expect that siblings will just “get over” these feelings with time. In order to maintain their strength, courage and hope, they need your love and support more than ever.
These books may be a useful when helping children who have a sibling with cancer:
- Life Isn’t Always A Day At The Beach, by Pam Ganz
- What is Cancer, Anyway? Explaining Cancer to Children of All Ages, by Karen Carney
- Chemo Crusader and the Cancer Fighting Crew, by Melodie Homer
You can also visit SuperSibs!, an organization providing support to siblings of children with cancer.