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When Your Brother or Sister Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

  • Posted: 12/26/2013

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You and Your Friends

"Before my big brother Trevor got cancer, my three best friends were my life. I didn't go anywhere without them. I was never really home. Things are different now. I still see my friends, but I want to hang out with Trevor a lot more now. I definitely don't take him for granted anymore. My friends keep on going like nothing has changed. And for them - nothing has."
- Taylor, age 16

Your friends are important to you, and you're important to them. In the past, you could tell them everything. Now that your brother or sister has cancer, it may seem like lots is changing - even your friendships. Here are some things to think about:

Some friends may not know what to say.

  • It's hard for some people to know what to say. They may be afraid of upsetting you. Try to be gentle with friends who don't ask how you're doing or who don't talk about your brother's or sister's cancer.
  • You may need to take the first step.
  • Try saying something like this:

Some friends may ask tough questions.

"Sometimes it's hard talking about everything that's going on. If this was happening to one of my friends, I probably wouldn't know what to say to them, either. It just makes me appreciate even more the friends who have called or stopped by to hang out."
- Justin, age 16
  • It may be hard to answer questions about what you and your family are going through. You may want to try to help your friends understand what's going on. Or sometimes you may not feel like talking at all.
  • Try saying something like this:
  • If you don't feel like talking, try saying something like this:

Your friends have their own lives.

" People asked me questions all the time. They'd say things like, 'I heard Molly isn't coming back to school this year' or 'I heard your mom was having a breakdown.' When I told them the truth, they didn't believe me. And they'd ask dumb questions like, 'Can Molly walk? Can she write?' They didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know how to answer them. I got sick of it."
- John, age 14
  • It may feel like your friends don't care anymore. It might seem as though their lives are moving on and yours is not. It can be hard to watch them get together with others or do things without you. They aren't facing the situation you are right now, so it may be hard for them to relate.
  • You might want to try saying something like this:

"I get the feeling my friends want me to just 'get over it' and go back to how life was before we found out my sister has cancer. But I wish they understo od that sometimes I just don't feel like doing what they're doing or talking about what they're talking about. I really want to spend time with my sister."
- Max, age 15
"Now that my brother lost his har and is so skinny, I don't want my friends to come over anymore. I don't want them to see how Tim looks. Besides, it's not easy to laugh and play at home when he's so sick."
- Caroline, age 14
"My friends have been great. They love Emma like she was their own sister. It helps to know that they care."
- Angie, age 13

Dealing With Embarrassment

It may be hard to talk with your friends. You may feel embarrassed that your brother or sister has cancer, or that now your family is different. You may not want to tell anyone about it. But when someone in your family is sick, you really need friends you can talk with.

Having Fun and Making New Friends

Old friends:

Even though you may have a lot on your mind, you can still get together with your friends and have a good time. If you can't leave home as much, ask if your friends can come over. Make time to relax. It's both good and important for you.

Make a list of fun things you and your friends like to do together. Then do them!







New friends:

A lot is happening to you right now. Sometimes old friends move on. You may not have as much in common as you used to. The good news is that you may make new friends through this experience. Kids who used to just pass you in the halls may now ask you how you are doing. Kids who you used to be friends with may become close friends again. Be open to new friendships.

Going to support groups at the hospital or at school is a good way to meet new friends. Support groups can help connect you with other kids who can relate to you - because they're going through some of the same things that you are.

Dealing With Hurtful Remarks

Unfortunately, some kids may say mean things. Others speak before they think and before they get the facts. No matter the reason, it can hurt when kids make jokes or say hurtful things about you, cancer, or your brother or sister.

What can you do?

  • Ignore the comment.
  • Say, "Hey, my brother/sister has cancer. It's not funny. How would you feel if it were your brother/sister?"
  • Being bullied? Go to your teacher, principal, or guidance counselor right away.