My brother or sister has cancer

If your brother or sister is diagnosed with cancer, it can mess with your emotions and your family life – but you don’t have to face this time alone.

Coping with change

What did you feel when you heard about your brother or sister’s cancer? Shock? Fear? Anger? Loneliness? Nothing? Whatever you’re going through, it’s totally normal – and you’re probably feeling a lot of the same things they are.

In the coming months, a lot will change for both of you. You’ll probably find there are times when you feel really close and times when you can’t stand the sight of each other. But trying to be honest about your feelings can help both of you cope – and so can making sure you don’t forget to care for yourself while you care for your brother or sister.

Cancer: the basics

There’s a lot of info on this site about different types of cancers and different treatments. But for starters, here are the basics:

  • Cancer is a disease of the cells, so right now some of your brother or sister’s cells aren’t acting normally
  • The cause of most cancers is unknown – and nothing your brother or sister has done has caused cancer
  • Many cancers can be cured, and cancer treatments are getting better all the time
  • Some of the treatments do have side effects that your brother or sister might experience – like hair loss, feeling tired all the time, being sick and either losing or putting on weight
  • Treatment can last between a few months and a few years
  • You can’t catch cancer from other people.

Looking after yourself

It’s important that you don’t neglect yourself during your brother or sister’s cancer treatment. You need to stay healthy, and it means you’ll be more helpful to your family, too.

So remember to eat well. Get plenty of sleep. Take time to chill with your friends. Do whatever makes you laugh. Talk about your feelings – or maybe write them down if you don’t feel like talking.

And try and stay away from drugs and alcohol. They might seem like a way to block out anything you’re struggling with, but they can leave you feeling really down afterwards.

Changes at home

It’s inevitable that life at home will change. You might find yourself having to do more chores. You might not be able to do all the things you usually do. You might feel like your parents don’t have as much time for you as they did. If you’re home from uni for the holidays, things might seem different too.

It can be tough. And it can also make you really struggle with your emotions.

Because no matter how much you know that these changes are necessary, you might get annoyed at having to do more. Or frustrated that you’re not getting as much attention as your brother or sister. Or there might be times when you get lonely.

Feeling any of these things is totally normal – there’s no right or wrong way to feel. But venting your emotions is usually better than keeping them to yourself.

Talking to your friends and family can help, but it can also be pretty difficult. If you’re more used to keeping quiet about your feelings, you could try writing an email or a letter. Even if you don’t send it, it can help you feel better. And specialist counsellors are available too, to help you make sense of what’s going on.

How can you help?

You probably want to help your brother or sister but might not know how. That’s totally normal. You can always ask them if there’s anything they need (although it can be tough to ask for help, so try to be patient if they sometimes get annoyed).

And you can try and do a few of these simple things too:

Spend time with them

Just do whatever you normally do together. (Even if that means fighting – no one expects your personalities to suddenly change…)

Let them know what’s going on

Instead of talking about cancer the whole time, let them know what you’ve been up to.

Help them contact friends

Remind them to invite friends over, put a post up on Facebook, or send a few texts every now and then.

Hit the kitchen

Learning to cook a few simple, healthy meals will help your brother or sister to eat well – and it’ll take some pressure off your parents too.

Wash your hands

Your brother or sister might be more likely to catch infections during cancer treatment – and washing your hands reduces the risk of infection spreading.

Take some deep breaths

Cancer stresses everyone out – you, your parents, your brother or sister. Sometimes the best thing you can do is count to ten, take a walk, plug your headphones in or do whatever you need to just relax.

Beware of Google!

Finding out more about cancer can be a really good idea. It means you know more about what to expect and about what your brother or sister is going through.

But before you open your phone and hit Google, remember to click carefully. There’s a lot of good information out there, but there are also plenty of scare stories – and it’s easy to get sucked into the scare stories and freak yourself out.

Doctors will be happy to recommend sites you can trust. We’ve included useful links throughout this site too. And remember that everyone’s cancer is different – so the best way to find out what’s really going on is to speak to your brother or sister, or to their doctors.

Dealing with school

Keeping up with school, college or uni isn’t easy when your brother or sister has cancer. You might:

  • Find it hard to concentrate because you’re worried
  • Feel tired because you’re having to do more at home
  • Have less time to do your homework
  • Struggle to see the point of algebra when your brother or sister is in hospital.

Our advice? Whatever you’re going through, don’t pretend everything is OK. Find a teacher you get on with and tell them how you’re feeling.

It might not be easy, but your teachers can help you out if they know what’s going on. If you’ve got exams coming up, you might be able to get your marks adjusted.

And though it doesn’t make any sense, you might find you (or your brother or sister) get bullied about cancer. People sometimes say nasty things if someone’s appearance changes or if they just don’t understand cancer.

This doesn’t happen often, but if it happens to you, let someone know. Staying quiet won’t make the problem go away – and the last thing you need is more stress.