Written by Robert Peterpaul
Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Micheal Guerrera
There’s no way around it: Finding out your sibling has cancer is terrible. Your whole family dynamic changes, with the sole focus immediately (and understandably) narrowed onto the sick person.
Of course, if you’re reading this, I don’t need to tell you that. I would, however, like to shift the focus onto you right now and offer some coping mechanisms for the difficult path ahead from someone who’s been in your shoes.
From shock to sadness, your emotions will run the gamut. It’s important that you check in with yourself and pay attention to how you’re feeling so you can be better equipped to tend to your own needs. Cancer therapy and cancer support options are available for yourself and your sibling.
Here are five ways to cope with a sibling having cancer.
1. Know you are not alone
It feels like no one could ever understand what you’re going through, and to some extent, you’re right. Only you know exactly how you feel. But there are many other siblings of cancer patients around the world walking beside you. In fact, one Google search will result in countless cancer support groups and resources, like SuperSibs, in your area.
Try not to shut out your loved ones. Though they may not understand what’s going on, they want to be there for you. We all need support, and while you’re offering that to your sibling, friends can offer that to you—but only if you let them.
If you’re not comfortable talking about things with them, that’s understandable. You may want to look into getting a therapist, as it’s crucial to have an outlet. Therapists can also help tailor coping mechanisms to you. Cancer therapy is a growing and useful field of psychology, for yourself and your sibling.
Above all else, remember, always: You are not alone.
2. Throw away your guilt
This is a high-level hack for all areas of life that’s tricky to master, but so freeing once you do. When your sibling is sick and you’re not, it’s completely natural to experience feelings of guilt. You may ask yourself: Why am I healthy when they’re sick? Why should I be happy when they’re suffering? Why should I keep living my life when they’re stuck in a hospital bed? Here’s the answer: Feeling guilty is a waste of time. It’s an utterly useless emotion. The best thing you can do for your sibling is support them while you continue living your life. Yes, it will be very different, but there are still ways to find joy. Don’t rob yourself of that.
3. Put your oxygen mask on first
Flight attendants say it best when they coach you to always put your oxygen mask on first in the event of an emergency. Well, this is an emergency situation, so put your oxygen mask on first! Of course you’ll want to provide cancer support to your sibling, but you can’t give from an empty cup.
Make sure to indulge in healthy activities that make you feel good. When we take care of ourselves, we take care of others. Not only does practicing self care make you feel better, it keeps others from having to worry extra about you.
4. Knowledge is power
Depending on your age, you may be kept in the dark about your sibling’s status. However, you have a right to know what’s going on if you want that information.
Simply ask, and if that doesn’t work, start researching cancer information. Often, we cook up worst-case scenarios in our heads. Knowing certain medical terms and asking questions might alleviate some of your anxiety. Of course, never feel like you have to—but know that the option is there to find out more cancer information.
5. Don't lose hope
Many kids survive cancer, so try not to let your thoughts constantly spin into the worst case scenario section of the brain. Better ways to fight cancer are being discovered each and every day. It’s OK to feel hopeless sometimes, but even when you lose hope from time to time, try your best to find it again. Just breathe and take things one minute at a time. I know this is incredibly hard, but it’s also out of your hands. aim to keep negative outcomes out of your mind and try to focus on the positives that you can see.