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

  • Posted: 12/26/2013

Changes in Your Family

Touching Base When Things Are Changing
Keeping the Conversation Going
Keeping Family and Friends in the Loop
Getting Help When You Need It
Growing Stronger as a Family
Asking Others for Help

Changing Routines and Responsibilities

Your family may be going through a lot of changes. You may be the oldest, youngest, or middle child in your family. You may live with one parent or two. Whatever your family situation, chances are that things have changed since your brother or sister got sick. This section looks at some of these changes and ways that others have dealt with them.

Does this sound like your home?

  • Are you doing more chores?
  • Are you spending more time with relatives or friends?
  • Are you home alone more?
  • Are you asked to help make dinner or do the laundry?
  • Are you looking after younger brothers or sisters more?
  • Do you want to just hang out with your friends when you are needed at home?

Does this sound like you?

  • Do you feel like you have to be perfect and good all the time?
  • Do you try to protect your parents from anything that might worry them?
  • Do you feel like yelling, but hold it in because you don't want to cause trouble?

No one can be perfect all the time. You need time to feel sad or angry, as well as time to be happy. Try to let your parents and others you trust know how you're feeling - even if you have to start the conversation.

Your Relationship With Your Parents

Your parents may ask you to take on more responsibility than others your age. Your parents may be spending more time with your brother or sister. You might resent it at first. Then again, you may grow and learn a lot from the experience. See Finding Support for tips on talking with your parents.

Touching Base When Things Are Changing

Families say that it helps to make time to talk together - even if it's only for a short time each week. Talking can help your family stay connected. Here are some things to consider when talking with:

Other brothers and sisters
  • If you are the oldest child, your younger brothers or sisters may look to you for support. Help them as much as you can. It's okay to let them know that you are having a tough time, too.
  • If you are looking to your older brother or sister for help, tell them how you are feeling. They can help, but they may not have all the answers.

Try saying something like this:

Your parents

  • Expect your parents to feel some stress, just like you may. Your parents may not always do or say the right thing.
  • Try to make the most of the time you do have with your parents. Let them know how much it means to you. Maybe you can go out to dinner together, or they can come to your sports game, from time to time.
  • Sometimes you may have to take the first step to start a conversation. You may feel guilty for wanting to have your needs met - but you shouldn't. You are important and loved, too.
  • Keep talking with your parents, even though it may be hard.

Try saying something like this:

Try saying something like this:

Your brother or sister with cancer

  • Your brother or sister may be sick from the treatment and want to be alone. Or maybe they feel okay and want your company.

Try saying something like this:

"I just wasn't ready for all these changes. My sister Kelly and I had always shared a bedroom. But when she got sick, she got the bedroom because Mom and Dad had to keep coming in during the night. Some nights I had to sleep on the couch in the living room. My brother Tim and I can't even have friends over as much anymore because they could bring germs when Kelly is sick. It's very different now."
- Jessica, age 13

Keeping the Conversation Going

If you're used to talking openly at home, you might find that your parents aren't sharing as much anymore.

Maybe they're trying to protect you from bad news or unsure about what to tell you. Some teens want to know a lot, while others only want to know a little. Tell your parents how much you want to know.

Over the next few weeks or months, you may overhear parts of your parents' conversations. If what you hear confuses or scares you, talk with your parents about what you heard.

Keeping Family and Friends in the Loop


It's getting to be too much to answer the phone all the time and tell people how your brother or sister is doing.


Ask others to help you share news of how your brother or sister is doing. Maybe a relative or family friend can be the contact person and help let others know how your brother or sister is doing. Some families use a Web site or e-mail listserv to share this information.

Getting Help When You Need It


Your family can't keep up with the house, meals, and other activities


Friends and neighbors often want to help make meals, clean, drive, or look after you and your siblings. Make a list with your parents of what needs to get done. Keep the list by the phone. When people ask what they can do to help, pull out the list.

Growing Stronger as a Family

"My family wasn't really close before my sister Gina got cancer. We used to go our own way and never did much together. When Gina got sick, we started pulling together more. We talked to our pastor about how much more each day meant. Now it seems like even simple things are special - like eating dinner together as a family."
- Jared, age 13

Some families can grow apart for a while when a child has cancer. But there are ways to help your family grow stronger and closer. Teens who saw their families grow closer say that it happened because people in their family:

  • Tried to put themselves in the other person's shoes and thought about how they would feel if they were the other person
  • Understood that even though people reacted differently to situations, they were all hurting. Some cried a lot. Others showed little emotion. Some used humor to get by.
  • Learned to respect and talk about differences. The more they asked about how others were feeling, the more they could help each other.
"We all acted differently when my middle brother Terrell got cancer. My younger brother started acting like a baby again and my older brother never seems to be home. I'm the only girl and feel like I have to hold it all together for my whole family."
- Keisha, age 14

Asking Others for Help

You and your family may need support from others. It can be hard to ask. Yet most of the time people really want to help, so don't hesitate to ask.

"Brian and I are not just brothers, we're best friends. When he got sick, it was so hard for me that I didn't feel like doing anything or talking to anyone. I felt down a lot, but I didn't let anyone know. Being at home wasn't much fun because Brian was always so sick. My math teacher noticed that I was different and asked me what was up. It's been good to have someone I can go to when I need to get things off my chest."
- Mike, age 18

People that you or your parents may ask for help:

  • Grandparents, aunts, and uncles
  • Family friends
  • Neighbors
  • Teachers and coaches
  • People from your religious community
  • Your friends and their parents
  • School nurses and guidance counselors.

Ways people can help you:

  • Help with homework.
  • Talk with you and listen to you.
  • Give rides to school or practice.
  • Invite you over or on weekend outings.

Other things people can do to help around the house:

  • Buy groceries or run errands.
  • Make meals.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Do chores around the house.

What are some other ways that people can help you?
List some ideas here: