Siblings Having our say

Naomi Chesler gives advice to parents and siblings of those with childhood cancer.

Twelve young people aged 7 to 29 met at the 25th Anniversary Candlelighters Conference to talk about what it is like having a sibling with cancer in the family. We talked about our families, our anger, jealousy, worries, and fears, and thought about what we wanted to tell others about our experiences. In fact, we made lists of things we wanted other people to know: one for parents, one for other children or young adults in our position, and one for the child who has been diagnosed with cancer

Some parts of these lists reflect anger and bitterness, but that was not the overriding feeling in the session. I hope it isn't the only message you take away. If nothing else, the issues raised here may provide you with a good starting point for discussions in your own family.

To parents:

• We know you are burdened and trying to be fair. But try harder.

• Be tough on disciplining the child with cancer. No free rides.

• Put yourself in our shoes once in a while.

• If you are away from home a lot, at least call and tell us, "I love you."

• Tell us what is going on. Don't just sit us in front of a video (about cancer); talk with us about it.

• Keep special time with us like lunch once a week or something. Time for just us. And if you can't be with us, find someone who can.

• When you talk to family members, say how everyone is doing—what we are doing is important, too.

• Ask how we are feeling. Don't assume you know.

To siblings of newly diagnosed kids:

• Keep a diary if you don't want to talk to your parents.

• Expect to not get as much attention.

• Expect that your parents are going to be extra cautious about what your brother/sister does, who he/she hangs out with, etc.

• Don't feel like you have to think about the illness all the time.

• Be understanding of your parents and stay involved.

• Tell someone how you are feeling—don't bottle it up.

• Go to the hospital to visit when you can.

• Make as many friends as possible at school.

To our siblings who struggled or are struggling with cancer:

• The world does not revolve around you.

• Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

• Not everything is related to cancer Stop using that as an excuse for everything.

• I'm jealous of you sometimes, but I'm not mad. I know it sometimes seems like I'm mad, but I'm not.

• Don't take advantage of all the extra attention you get.

• Tell mom and dad to pay attention to me sometimes, too.

• Now that you are feeling better, wheres the gratitude for all those chores that I did?

• I really admire your strength and courage. I wouldn't have gotten through your illness without you.

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