a banner which says National Sibling Day

Today is National Sibling Day. In this blog, Senior Editor Elissia discusses the impact of a brother or sister being diagnosed with cancer, and how you can support your sibling.


How you might feel

Everyone’s relationships with their siblings are different. But for a lot of people, their brother or sister being diagnosed with cancer can be an extremely difficult and upsetting time. You may have many different feelings, including shock, grief, anger and anxiety.

If you already have a difficult or complicated relationship with your sibling, these feelings could make this more difficult. But cancer can also bring you closer, as you deal with the challenges together.


How your role might change

You might find that your role in the family, as well as your relationship with your brother or sister changes. For example, if they are having treatment they may not have the energy to do things they did before. So you, and other family members, may need to do those things instead.

You may find that helping out or spending more time with your sibling means you have less time for other things, such as socialising or working. If life is becoming very busy, it may help to write down a list of priorities. You could do this as a family, or just with your sibling, to plan which things are most important.

Talking

Talking and listening can help your brother or sister cope with their emotions. You may be close already and have an honest relationship. So, talking might feel natural. Or, you may find communication difficult, especially if it is about a more serious topic. Here are some tips for talking and listening that may help:

  • Don’t feel you need to have answers, or reassure them everything will be fine. Listen and let them speak honestly about their feelings.
  • Listen carefully to what they are saying. Repeat things back, to check you understand.
  • Respect their feelings, and remember they might want to talk about things you find hard to hear.
  • Allow them to talk, even if you disagree with what they are saying.
  • Don’t judge or offer advice that they haven’t asked for. If you must offer advice, think about how helpful it will be.
  • Respond to humour, if they use it. But don’t introduce humour into the conversation, in case they don’t find this helpful.
  • Don’t worry if there are breaks in conversation. Just being there and touching their hand or putting an arm around their shoulder may help more than words.

Practical ways to support your sibling

You might really want to help, but are not sure how to. Here are some ideas of how you can support your brother or sister:

  • Find out if they want your help and what help they need. When you know, offer to help with a specific thing that they have mentioned.
  • Offer to go with them to hospital appointments, or be there to talk with them afterwards.
  • If they are in hospital, ask if they want you to visit. You could take them a book or magazine, or chat to them about what’s happening at home.
  • If they are at home, see if they want you to visit and ask them how you can help. For example, you could collect children from school, walk the dog or do some housework.
  • If you cannot visit, call or text, or send an email or a card to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Getting support

Supporting your brother or sister can be rewarding and may bring you closer together. But it can also be difficult and sometimes upsetting. It’s important to make sure you look after yourself and get the support you need:

  • Take time to do things you enjoy, or that you find relaxing.
  • Do things that give you a sense of achievement, such as exercising.
  • Talk to another family member or a friend about how you are feeling.
  • Join an online support group for people affected by cancer.

Remember that there is no right way to support someone with cancer. The thing your brother or sister will value most is your care and compassion. We have lots of information about Talking with someone who has cancer.

If you need more support, or would just like to talk, call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. You could also explore the Online Community

an image of our booklet, Talking with someone who has cancer

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