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Siblings of Childhood Cancer Patients

Having a brother or sister diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming. Many kids and teens feel nervous, scared, or sad when their brother or sister is diagnosed. It is also normal to feel jealous, or even guilty.

It is important to know that nothing you or anyone else did caused your sibling to get childhood cancer and that you are not alone.

Here are some things have helped other kids and teens cope:

Learn about cancer

Many kids are better able to deal with the stress of having a sibling with childhood cancer when they understand what is going on and feel prepared for what will happen. Learning the facts about your sibling’s diagnosis and treatment plan can relieve some stress and fear.

Your family’s child life specialist can help explain things in a way that makes sense. When you think of questions, write them down to bring next time you visit the hospital.

Have a plan to answer questions

Other kids, or even adults in your life, might want to ask you questions about how your sibling is doing. They may not realize that this could be annoying or upsetting to you.

It may help to come up with a few responses to have on hand for when questions arise, even if it’s something like “I don’t feel like talking about it right now.”

Question Response
What caused your brother/sister to get cancer? We don’t know exactly why this happened. Doctors are working hard to find out why some kids get cancer. We do know that it is not anyone’s fault.
Are you going to get cancer now, too? No. Cancer is not contagious like a cold.
Does it hurt? Sometimes he/she feels pain, but most of the time he/she feels okay.
Why is he/she bald? Chemo can cause hair to fall out, but it should grow back.

Spend time with family

Your family members might feel worried about your sibling. It is normal for them to want to give them a lot of attention, but you need time with your loved ones, too. It is OK to ask for special time with a parent or other important person.

Express yourself

Writing down your feelings or talking out loud to someone about how you feel can help you to feel better, even if it doesn’t “fix” what is happening. Some kids like to keep a journal or write letters to people to express how they feel. Music and art can also help get feelings out.

Maintain normal routine

There may be times when you want to skip your normal activities to spend time at the hospital, and it’s good to be involved in your sibling’s daily life at the hospital if you want to be. However, participating in things you enjoy is important, too. Many kids find that keeping up with their normal routine helps, such as participating in sports and other hobbies, or hanging out with friends.

Identify a support person

It is important to identify one person (or a few people) who can be support you. This might be a close friend, a parent, a caring adult such as a teacher or counselor, or even another sibling of a child with cancer. It helps to have a friend or trusted adult in mind when you need someone to listen.

Tell your school what’s going on

Your family may want to share some information about your sibling’s diagnosis with your school so that the school staff can best support you and make accommodations if needed.

Stay in touch

There may be times when you are not able to spend as much time with your sibling who has cancer such as when you are in school or if you are sick and it is not safe to spread germs to him or her. You and your sibling may enjoy keeping in touch by video calling each other, texting throughout the day, or even sending notes back and forth.

Ask for help

If you are struggling, know that it is OK to ask for help. Your sibling’s hospital knows that the entire family is impacted by one person’s cancer diagnosis. There are professionals who can help.

Experiencing things like worrying or feeling sad a lot, not being able to sleep, having a hard time at school, or not being interested in the things you usually like to do might be signs you could use some support. Get in touch with a child life specialist, social worker, psychologist, or chaplain for resources and more coping tools.

Reviewed: February 2020