New research heard from the siblings of child cancer sufferers

Earlier this month, BPS Research Digest editor Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) wrote about the shock and fear experienced by children when the dreadful news arrives that their brother or sister has cancer.

A recent article from the British Psychological Society gives powerful insight for professionals

Earlier this month, BPS Research Digest editor Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) wrote about the shock and fear experienced by children when the dreadful news arrives that their brother or sister has cancer.

Based on the findings of a new UK study, Jarrett described reactions like shock (“It was like a punch in the face”), helplessness, guilt and even jealousy (“They used to get loads and loads and loads of presents”). Difficult experiences like sustained anxiety, being forced to grow up too fast and finding a lack of support at hospitals were also mentioned.

Amazingly, the young people interviewed in the study also reported how they’d changed for the better as a result of their sibling’s cancer diagnosis. This included becoming closer with their sibling and family, developing empathy and maturity (“I’m more understanding of others, like children with disabilities… I know how their siblings or their mum and dad are feeling”) and a new outlook on life (“If I want to do things now I do them… life can be too short”).

The need for Hope Support Services

​The full article and details of the study are well worth a read on the BPS Research Digest site, but summarising brings up some important key issues:

  • There is very little research around the effects of a life-threatening illness on family members. This study involved a small focus group of six young people at one hospital in Cambridge, and there is still a need for more questions to be asked and notice to be taken of the forgotten family members behind serious diagnoses.
  • There is a lack of specialist support for the siblings of children with cancer (and realistically many other life-threatening illnesses), which can put a strain on the family. One parent at Hope told us “Children need vital support when a parent or guardian just can’t give enough”.
  • Complex emotions like guilt and jealousy can be difficult to talk about with family or others who may not fully understand. One of Hope’s young people said, “unless you’ve actually been through it, or are going through it, you don’t quite ‘get’ it”.
  • Maintaining normal life and building self-esteem of young family members are just two practical needs when the focus is on the patient’s wellbeing.

How Hope can help the families you work with

Hope Support Services is the UK charity supporting young people through a family health crisis. Driven by Youth Management Teams who understand exactly what support is needed based on their own personal experiences, Hope provides a chance to talk with others who understand, vent frustrations, be angry or upset or jealous without judgement, and feel like an important member of the family again.​

One of our young people described Hope as “a big family that’s always there for you, no matter what. After coming to Hope I feel that everyone’s around me, always trying to help and it just makes me feel like I’m never alone and that I’m just as important as everyone else in the world. Even though I’ve had a bad past I feel like I’ve got a positive future.”

If you’re working with someone aged 11 or over and someone in their family has a life-threatening illness, Hope can help. Find out what support we can offer here, and please get in touch to find out more.

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