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What To Tell The Healthy Ones: A Sibling's Perspective

Posted on Feb 13, 2013

You've explained everything you can to your sick child, and now it's time to talk to the healthy ones. Here's how Lainie's sister, Samantha thinks you should do it.

When my sister Lainie was diagnosed with cancer, I was 7 years old, and Lainie was 9. Though my memory is foggy, I remember the day Lainie and my mother sat with me on my bedroom floor and explained to me that Lainie would soon be losing her hair.

“How horrible,” I thought—particularly because my hair was my most valued feature.

They proceeded to tell me that Lainie had something called “cancer.” Cancer was a word I had never heard before, knew nothing about, and didn’t understand in the least bit. To me, it seemed like a large entity…some kind of ugly monster invading my sister’s body. And I had questions.

“Why?” was the first one, naturally. They told me it was a disease, and that there was no particular reason why Lainie got it. That confused me even more. I wanted to know what it WAS, where it came from, why her hair had to fall out, and how we were going to make it go away.

My parents and the doctors must have done a good job explaining to Lainie what was going to happen to her, because she took the reins when it came time to answer my questions.

“They’re going to give me a medicine called chemo that is so strong, it will make my hair fall out. It will also kill the cancer, so that’s okay. I’m going to get a wig, too,” Lainie explained.

“Hm…a wig sounds cool. Maybe she’ll let me wear it,” I thought selfishly to myself.

Lainie was a brave exception to most 9 year olds, but I’ve noticed that so are most children with cancer. Perhaps that’s why they are the ones that get stuck with this disease. I should note that Lainie and I had a very close bond that only sisters experience, and this played a role in her ability to speak so honestly with me. She was eerily mature and well spoken, even at 9.

That being said, I must admit that having her explain it to me herself made it seem okay. It made more sense to me the way Lainie put it, and I wasn’t scared or worried—except maybe a little bit about how she would look bald.

The point I want to make from a healthy sibling’s point of view is this: children need just as much explaining as adults do, if not more, because they understand a lot less. What’s important is how you lay out that information. I believe it’s important that the sick child is present when you’re telling the healthy ones. It will put them at ease, and make it seem okay to talk about. If your kid can’t do the talking, step in and try to relay it in the best and simplest way you can. It’s no secret—everything is going to change. You just have to experience the change together.


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