A cancer diagnosis has a weight to it, especially when it is for a child. The entire process will change a family unit. Their regular lives are upended, as they turn into a “cancer support family”, where everything must revolve around the new reality they find themselves in.
While support for cancer patients and families as a whole is important, very often the focus is on the child and their parents who must now act as medical caregivers on top of their usual responsibilities. Siblings of cancer patients can often feel confused and isolated. While a cancer support family must focus on getting the cancer patient everything they need, the level of care they can provide will be stronger if all members of the family are taken care of.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to help care for the sibling or siblings of a child cancer patient. These concepts should also be kept in mind for anyone outside the family who is looking to provide support or prepare a cancer care package for family use.
Exactly how you will discuss a cancer diagnosis depends on the age of the child in question. Younger children will need an explanation given in a more simplistic manner. But an explanation should be given. Children may feel resentment if they feel that information is being concealed from them. Answer questions that children may have truthfully, and give them a good idea of what they should expect. Young children may not be aware of the side effects of cancer treatment, such as weight and hair loss. Explaining why these things happen can remove the fear associated with them.
Don’t Overwhelm Them
While being honest is important in a cancer support family, you don’t want to overwhelm them with information. You should encourage the siblings of cancer patients to approach you with their questions, rather than drowning them in unfamiliar terms and frightening possibilities.
You need to allow them to be open about their feelings. Let them work through it at their own pace. Older children can be directed to services that provide support for cancer patients and families, so they can take a measure of control in their education. Young children can also benefit from pediatric counseling services that offer hands-on activities to help them work through the emotions they’re encountering.
Growing children are at a developing stage in their emotions and how they handle them. The stress of a cancer diagnosis in the family may lead children to act out or develop anxiety. Every child will react to this differently. You need to understand that children and teenagers don’t always have the capacity to understand and cope with things in the same way that you do. This empathy can help prepare you for dealing with heightened emotions gently.
Let Them Get Involved
One of the hardest realities a cancer support family will have to deal with is feelings of helplessness. A cancer diagnosis is something outside of anyone’s ability to affect and destroys the sense of control that we need to feel stable in our lives. Everyone in a cancer support family can regain a part of this sense of control through planning and preparation.
Schedules will have to change, and you can get siblings of cancer patients involved in helping plan these new schedules, and in taking on new responsibilities, depending on their age. Allocating household chores and treatment-related activities will help reduce stress and anger later on, as no one feels like requirements are being “sprung” on them. If the child is comfortable with it, and they are old enough, they can even help in the process of preparing for treatments and taking care of their siblings. This will give them a sense of empowerment in a situation that can feel at times devastating and hopeless.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
Even the most gung-ho cancer support family won’t be able to take on this entire burden on their own. Even if parents are ready for a huge load, this doesn’t mean that all of their children will be as well. There are many options for support for cancer patients and families that can be tapped - from transportation to meal planning to providing cancer care packages for families who need them.
By letting others pitch in, you can give more attention to all members of the family, and plan family activities that help bring everyone together. And in trying times, that can be one of the most important things. OneVillage is also here to help, putting cancer support families in touch with the resources they need - from transportation to meal planning to care packages. Please contact us at any time for more information.