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

  • Posted: 12/26/2013

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After Treatment

What If Treatment Doesn't Help?
If Your Brother or Sister Passes Away, Know That:

"My sister Dana had to go to a cancer treatment center 6 hours away. I only got to see her two times. We talked on the phone, but it wasn't the same. My sisters and I sent photos and letters so she knew we were thinking about her. We're glad to have Mom and Dana back home now."
- Kyle, age 13

When your brother or sister has finally completed treatment, you and your family may feel a whole range of emotions. Part of you is glad it is over. Another part of you may miss the freedom or new responsibilities you had while your parent was busy taking care of your sick brother or sister.

Your brother or sister may still look sick and be weaker than you expected. You may be afraid the cancer will come back. You may be looking to find more meaning in your life now. All these feelings are normal. Things may not go back to exactly how they were before cancer came into your lives. Getting back to your "old life" may take a long time - and it may not happen as you expect.

Here's what others have said about life after treatment. Do any of these kids sound like you?

Neil talks about the "new normal":

"I watched my younger brothers when Alex was away getting treatment. My stepdad counted on me since he was working and Mom was at the hospital with Alex all the time. Now that Alex is home, I'm back to being just one of the kids. Alex is getting all the attention - even from my little brothers who used to look up to me all the time. My stepdad says I'll get used to being a kid again. But right now it doesn't feel that way."
- Neil, age 16

Ross appreciates life more:

"It used to be all about having the latest stuff. If one of my friends got a new skateboard or jacket, I had to have it, too. After Jackie got sick, I realized that it was just that - stuff. Now there are more important things in life - like my sister and my family. When someone you care about is really sick, you find out what really matters."
- Ross, age 15

Tanya is glad to have her sister back home:

"Before my sister Amy got sick, we fought all the time. If she wore one of my sweaters, I was on her. It bugged me when she followed me around, especially when my friends were over. And if she got into my stuff - it was war. But after Amy got cancer things just didn't matter anymore. I was like - 'take my sweater Ames - keep it, it's yours.' I realized how much I would miss her if anything happened to her."
- Tanya, age 15

Write down what life after treatment feels like for you and your family:







What If Treatment Doesn't Help?

If treatment doesn't help your brother or sister, you and your family will face even more challenges. Hearing that your sibling might die is very difficult. You may feel many of the same emotions you felt when you first learned that your brother or sister had cancer.

No booklet can give you all the answers or tell you exactly how you will feel. But when the future is so uncertain, teens say that it helps to:

  • Make the most of the time you have.
    Do special things as a family. At home, make time for your brother or sister. Call and visit as much as you can if they are in the hospital. Write notes and draw pictures. Say "I love you" often. If possible, try to have some special times together. If you have not gotten along in the past, you may want to let your brother or sister know you love them.
  • Stay on track.
    When people get bad news, they often feel like they're living outside of themselves - that life is moving along without them. That's why it's important to keep a schedule and stay connected. Stay involved in school. Be with friends. And let yourself take breaks from it all when you need to.
  • Have hope.
    Never stop believing in tomorrow, and don't be too hard on yourself. There is more good than bad in this world - even though you might not feel that way right now.
  • Get help when you feel alone.
    Make sure you find people who can help you. In addition to your family, it may help to talk to a social worker, counselor, or people in a support group. It's important to let your feelings out.

Do you want more support and guidance?

Many cancer organizations can help you during this very difficult time in your life. Turn to Learning More On Your Own for information about some of these organizations.

If Your Brother or Sister Passes Away, Know That:

"We all huddled in my mom's bed the night we found out that Gracie's treatment wasn't working anymore. Gracie was so wise. Even though she was only 10 years old, she was trying to comfort us and tell us it would all be okay. That made us want to cry harder - but something inside said to be brave for Gracie. Now, we look at photos and talk about Gracie. I still don't know how life without my little sister will look. I just try to take it one day at a time."
- Gail, age 19

You'll always have memories.
Your brother or sister will always be part of your life. Hold on to your memories of the good times. It's okay to think about something funny that your brother or sister did or said. By laughing and smiling you are bringing back just a little of what was so special about them.

The pain will lessen with time.
At first the pain may be so strong that you might wonder whether you will ever feel happy again. Time has a way of healing. Not being sad every day doesn't mean that you have forgotten. It just means that you're starting to heal.

Everyone grieves in his or her own way.
Some teens grieve for their brother's or sister's death by crying. Others get quiet and spend time by themselves. Some find that they need to be around friends and talk. Others get very angry. In any case, most people finds it helps to keep a regular routine. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It's okay to deal with loss at your own pace.

Your sibling would want you to be happy.
Stay open to new experiences. Make small changes that give your life new meaning. Write about your thoughts and about this experience. Don't worry about what to say, just write.

Life will change.
Life won't be the same as before, but it can be rich and full again. Keep believing this.