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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.

For most teenagers, cancer is about the last thing they expect to deal with during a time of life that may already be challenging. Adolescence can often be a struggle over figuring out who you are and what you believe. Teens tend to be focused on their peer relationships and want to “fit in,” and often look to other teens who are similar to them for guidance.

Having a sibling with cancer can make a teen feel different than his or her friends, which can lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness. Teens often struggle to understand what a cancer diagnosis means, how it will affect their own lives, and what will happen to them. Not being able to talk with friends going through something similar might leave them feeling scared and overwhelmed.

Check with a social worker at the hospital or treatment center where your daughter is receiving treatment to find out about any support programs specifically for siblings that might be offered there or by local organizations.

SuperSibs! provides support services, including camps and care packages.

Lastly, I’d suggest reading our booklet, Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer.

For Leukemia

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?

A.

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.