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

  • Posted: 12/26/2013

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You've Just Learned That Your Brother or Sister Has Cancer

Your Feelings
What You're Feeling Is Normal
Dealing With Your Feelings

"This is so unreal. I thought only old people got really sick - not little kids. My brother Jason has cancer, and he is only 10 years old. We found out last week, and it hasn't even sunk in yet. I wake up every morning thinking this is just a bad dream."
- Liza, age 15

You've just learned that your brother or sister has cancer. You may have a lot of emotions - feeling numb, afraid, lonely, or angry. One thing is certain - you don't feel good.

For now, try to focus on these facts:

  • Many kids survive cancer. You have good reason to be hopeful that your brother or sister will get better. Today, as many as 8 in 10 kids diagnosed with cancer survive their illness. Many go on to live normal lives. That's because scientists are discovering new and better ways to find and treat cancer.
  • You're not alone. Right now it might seem like no one else in the world feels the way you do. In a way you're right. No one can feel exactly like you do. But it might help to know that there are other kids who have a brother or sister with cancer. Talking to others may help you sort out your feelings. Remember, you are not alone.
  • You're not to blame. Cancer is a disease with many causes, many of which doctors don't fully understand. But your brother or sister did not get cancer because of anything you did, thought, or said.
  • You can't protect, but you can give comfort. Sometimes you'll be strong for your brother or sister, and sometimes your brother or sister will be strong for you. It's okay to talk about how hard it is and even cry together.
  • Knowledge is power. It can help to learn more about cancer and cancer treatments. Sometimes what you imagine is actually worse than the reality.


Your Feelings

As you deal with your sibling's cancer, you may feel lots of different emotions. Some of the emotions you may feel are listed below.

Check off all the feelings you have today:

Scared
My world is falling apart.
I'm afraid that my brother or sister might die.
I'm afraid that someone else in my family might catch cancer. (They can't.)

I feel scared because:


 



It's normal to feel scared. Some of your fears may be real. Others may be based on things that won't happen. And some fears may lessen over time.

Guilty
I feel guilty because I'm healthy and my brother or sister is sick.
I feel guilty when I laugh and have fun.

I feel guilty because:


 



You might feel guilty about having fun when your sibling is sick. This shows how much you care about them. But you should know that it is both okay and important for you to do things that make you happy.

Angry
I am mad that my brother or sister got sick.
I am upset at the doctors.
I am angry at God for letting this happen.
I am angry at myself for feeling the way I do.

I am angry because:


 



"Sometimes, I feel mad at my brother for having cancer. I know that's not right, and he can't help it. But it has changed everything. My mom and dad don't talk about anything but him, and neither does anyone else. It's just not fair."
- Tyree, age 13

Anger often covers up other feelings that are harder to show. If having cancer in your family means that you can't do what you like to do and go where you used to go, it can be hard. Even if you understand why it's happening, you don't have to like it. But, don't let anger build up inside. Try to let it out. And when you get mad, remember that it doesn't mean you're a bad person or you don't love your sibling. It just means you're mad.

Neglected
I feel left out.
I don't get any attention.
No one ever tells me what's going on.
My family never talks anymore.

I feel neglected because:


 



"At night both my parents go in my sister's room to talk and be with her. I'm the youngest, and I need them, too. Do they both have to be with her every night?"
- Sarah, age 14

When your brother or sister has cancer, it's common for the family's focus to change. Your parents don't mean for you to feel left out. It just happens because so much is going on. You may want to tell your parents how you feel and what you think might help. Try to remember that you are important and loved and that you deserve to feel that way, even though you might not get as much attention from your parents right now.

Lonely
My friends don't come over anymore.
My friends don’t seem to know what to say to me anymore.
I miss being with my brother or sister the way we used to be.

I feel lonely because:


 



We look at some things that may help you deal with changes in friendships in You and Your Friends, and at things others have done to stay close to their siblings in How You Can Help Your Brother or Sister. For now, try to remember that these feelings won't last forever.

Embarrassed
I'm sometimes embarrassed to be out in public with my sibling because of how they look.
I feel silly when I don't know how to answer people's questions.

I feel embarrassed because:


 



It can help to know that other teens also feel embarrassed. So do their siblings. In time it gets easier, and you will find yourself feeling more comfortable.

Jealous
I'm feeling upset that my brother or sister is getting all the attention.

I feel jealous because:


 



Even if you understand why you are getting less attention, it's still not easy. Others who have a brother or sister with cancer have felt the same way. Try to share your feelings with your parents and talk about what you think might help.

What You're Feeling Is Normal

"I feel so bad for my big sister. She's sick all the time. She used to be the one I looked up to, and now everything has changed. Now, she looks to me for support. I feel like I'm having to grow up so fast."
- Riley, age 12

There is no one "right" way to feel. And you're not alone - many other teens in your situation have felt the same way. Some have said that having a brother or sister with cancer changes the way they look at things in life. Some even said that it made them stronger.

Dealing With Your Feelings

A lot of people are uncomfortable sharing their feelings. They ignore them and hope they'll go away. Others choose to act cheerful when they're really not. They think that by acting upbeat they won't feel sad or angry anymore. This may help for awhile, but not over the long run. Actually, holding your feelings inside can keep you from getting the help that you need.

Try these tips:

  • Talk with family and friends that you feel close to. You owe it to yourself.
  • Write your thoughts down in a journal.
  • Join a support group to meet other kids who are facing some of the same things you are. Or meet with a counselor. We'll learn more about these options in Finding Support.

It is probably hard to imagine right now, but, if you let yourself, you can grow stronger as a person through this experience.

"When my dad comes home from being with my sister at the hospital all day, he is so grumpy. One day I just asked him why he always seemed so mad at me. He got quiet and said he's so worried and stressed that even little things set him off . . . and that being on edge isn't fair to me and my other sister. Hearing what was going on inside my dad's head made me realize how tough this whole situation is for him, too. It made me feel a lot closer to him, instead of so alone and mad."
- Kevin, age 15
"It's a pain to do the dishes by myself all the time. Before he got sick it was my brother's job to wash and my job to dry. We had a system."
- Justin, age 17
"I had to give up going to drill team after school because I had to be home to take care of my little sisters while Mom took Jay to the doctors."
- Becky, age 16
"I was so scared when I found out that my brother had cancer. In the movies cancer always seems so terrible. Then I realized that I didn't really know that much about cancer. I started reading and learned a lot. I found out that most kids survive cancer."
- Rashid, age 14