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

  • Posted: 12/26/2013

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Taking Care of Yourself

It's Important To "Stay Fit" - Both Inside and Out
Dealing With Stress
Take Care of Your Mind and Body
Take Steps To Keep Things Simple
What Else Can You Do?
Get Help When You Feel Down and Out
If You Answered "Yes" To Any of These Questions…

"When we found out my sister Kiana had cancer, we all seemed to focus on her - and nothing else. I was so worried that I stopped hanging out with friends and quit training for track meets. One day my mom said that giving up all these things wasn't good for me. She said it was okay to have fun and practically pushed me out the door to start going to track again. I didn't think anyone noticed me, but I'm glad my mom did! She even came to my next track meet!"
- Patrick, age 16

It's Important To "Stay Fit"-- Both Inside and Out

You may be so focused on your sick brother or sister that you don't think about your own needs, or if you do, they don't seem important. But they are! Read this section to learn ways to stay balanced at a time when everything may feel up in the air.

Dealing With Stress

Stress can make you forgetful, frustrated, and more likely to catch a cold or the flu. Any way you look at it, too much stress isn't good.

Here are some tips that have worked to help other teens manage stress. In the lists on the next few pages, check one or two things to do each week.

Take Care of Your Mind and Body

  • Stay connected.
    • Spend some time at a friend's house.
    • Stay involved with sports or clubs.
    • Add your own here:

  • Relax and get enough sleep.
    • Take breaks. You'll have more energy and be in a better frame of mind.
    • Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
    • Pray or meditate.
    • Make or listen to music.
    • Add your own here:

  • Help others.
    • Join a walk against cancer.
    • Plan a bake sale or other charity event to collect money to fight cancer.
    • Add your own here:

  • Avoid risky behaviors.
    • Stay away from smoking, drinking, and other risky behaviors.

  • Put your creative side to work.
    • Keep a journal to write down your thoughts and experiences.
    • Draw, paint, or take photographs.
    • Read books or articles about people who have made it through difficult experiences in life. Learn what helped them.
    • Add your own here:

  • Eat and drink well.
    • Switch to caffeine-free drinks in the evening that won't keep you awake.
    • Grab fresh fruit, whole-grain breads, and lean meats like chicken or turkey when you have a choice.
    • Avoid foods that have a lot of sugar.
    • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to help prevent fatigue.
    • Add your own here:

  • Be active.
    • Play a sport or go for a run.
    • Take the dog for a walk.
    • Learn about different stretching and breathing exercises.
    • Add your own here:

Did you know?

Exercise has been proven to make you feel better. Running, swimming, or even walking at a fast pace can help improve your mood.

Take Steps To Keep Things Simple

"It sounds weird - since my family didn't used to be that organized - but keeping track of everything on a calendar really helped us stay on track. It made everything feel more under control - especially when things got a little crazy."
- Eric, age 17

Staying organized can also keep your stress level under control. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • At home
    • Make a list of things you want to do. Put the most important ones at the top.
    • Make a big calendar to help your family stay on top of things.
  • At school
    • Let your teachers know what's happening at home, without using it as an excuse.
    • Talk to your teachers or a counselor if you are falling behind. They can help you.

What Else Can You Do?

The ideas listed above may help. You may also have others that would work even better. Write down your ideas below:







Get Help When You Feel Down and Out

Many teens feel low or down when their brother or sister is sick. It's normal to feel sad or "blue" during difficult times. However, if these feelings last for 2 weeks or more and start to interfere with things you used to enjoy, you may be depressed. The good news is that there is hope and there is help. Often, talking with a counselor can help. Below are some signs that you may need to see a counselor.

Are you:

  • Feeling helpless and hopeless? Thinking that life has no meaning?
  • Losing interest in being with family or friends?
  • Finding that everything or everyone seems to get on your nerves?
  • Feeling really angry a lot of the time?
  • Thinking of hurting yourself?

Do you find that you are:

  • Losing interest in the activities you used to enjoy?
  • Eating too little or a lot more than usual?
  • Crying easily or many times each day?
  • Using drugs or alcohol to help you forget?
  • Sleeping more than you used to? Less than you used to?
  • Feeling tired a lot?

If You Answered "Yes" To Any of These Questions…

It's important to talk to someone you trust. Going to see a counselor doesn't mean that you are crazy. In fact, it means that you have the strength and courage to recognize that you are going through a difficult time and need help. Read more about what teens who've talked with a counselor or met with a support group have to say in Finding Support.

"It got to the point where I was feeling down all the time, like I just didn't have any energy and nothing seemed fun anymore. I even stopped hanging out with my friends. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone what was going on, not even my family. But then I started talking with a counselor and now things are getting back on track."
- Jake, age 17
"My grades were slipping. I wasn't that great a student before my sister got cancer. Once she got really sick I stopped caring about school. My art teacher noticed that my drawings were different. She talked with me and helped me get an appointment with the guidance counselor. I feel like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders. I still worry about my sister, but am doing better in school now."
- Ray, age 16