Telling siblings

A diagnosis of cancer is traumatic for siblings. Family life is disrupted, time with parents decreases, and a large amount of attention is paid to the ill child. Brothers and sisters need as much knowledge as their sick sibling. Information provided should be age appropriate, and all questions should be answered honestly. Siblings should understand that they did not give this disease to their brother or sister and that it is not contagious. Siblings can be extremely cooperative if they understand the changes that will occur in the family and their role in helping the family cope. However, parents may see behavior changes such as jealousy, regression (bed wetting in potty-trained toddlers), guilt (thinking that they caused their siblings illness), school problems, and symptoms of illness to gain attention. Maintaining open communication about feelings helps siblings continue to feel loved and secure. Chapter 16, Siblings, explores sibling issues in detail and contains many suggestions from both parents and siblings.

The following passage was written by Jenny Gardner and is reprinted from Candle-lighters Youth Newsletter, Spring 1995, Vol. XVII No. 2. Jenny was diagnosed with ALL in 1984. A resident of New Jersey, she is an accomplished horsewoman and also enjoys singing and acting.

When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I felt like I was trapped in a room with no windows or doors, and the walls were closing in on me. I thought that I would never be able to smell my grandmother's hand cream, or feel the way my dad's face felt in the morning before he shaves, or the way my mom's silk blouse feels when I hug her I thought that I would never have the sensation of turning one year older again. I thought that I would never again be able to feel how I feel after it rains, when it smells so fresh and clean like the whole world just took a bath. I thought that I would never be able to taste my first glass of champagne on New Year's and feel all bubbly and warm like I was flying in a hot-air balloon. And all of a sudden my dream popped, and I realized that this wasn't a dream, it was reality.

Right now there are thousands of kids like me across the country who are feeling the same way I felt eight years ago, and I would just like to wish them good luck. Because it's a long, hard journey full of needles, blood tests, and chemotherapy, but when you finally get to the end, you feel like you've been freed after years and years of darkness, and I'll tell you one thing—that is the greatest feeling you could have!


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