When a child has cancer, all members of the family are affected.
Parents feel great distress when their child is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Over time, the level of distress may lessen. Each family is affected in its own way, and different members of the family will react in different ways.
Certain factors may increase the family’s level of distress:
- The cancer patient is at a young age when diagnosed.
- The cancer treatments last for a long period of time.
- The child with cancer dies.
The entire family must adjust to changes in normal routine as the parents cope with the child’s treatment, look for information, and try to also take care of the brothers and sisters. The parents’ attention is focused on the child with cancer.
Brothers and sisters of the cancer patient need help to cope with their feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and fear. Brothers and sisters who are bone marrow (stem cell) donors for the cancer patient may have anxiety. Siblings who are not bone marrow donors may have school-related problems.
Although stress -related symptoms are common in siblings of childhood cancer patients, they sometimes report that their experience has made them more compassionate and that the cancer experience has brought their family closer together.
Social support can help decrease the family’s distress.
Parents who are working and who have support from family, friends, and the health care team usually have lower levels of distress and feel more positive about their child’s experience. Social support programs, such as support groups and summer camps, help brothers and sisters cope with the illness more easily.
The Web site of the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov)