When your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, the family enters a world that they could never imagine. The parents experience a world of medical language that they do not understand, highly technical machines, frightening procedures, and an endless succession of needles for their child to endure. This foreign landscape brings on feelings of helplessness.
The diagnosis of a child with a brain tumor affects the entire family. The dynamics of family life change. Mom and dad need to devote most of their time to the care of their critically ill child. Healthy children find themselves in the middle of this crisis as well. Often out of necessity, healthy siblings remain at home with family or friends while mom and dad are at the hospital with the sick child. In the midst of responding to the needs of their sick child, parents may fail to explain to the siblings what is happening with the sick child.
This is the time that can be the most frightening for your healthy children. If the siblings don't understand what is happening, they may be afraid that their brother or sister is going to die. They may also fear that they will get a brain tumor. They may even think that perhaps they did something to cause this to happen.
During treatment, time may be taken away from the healthy siblings' activities. The sick child may receive presents and extra attention. Sometimes this may bring on feelings of resentment and jealousy toward the sick child.
When healthy siblings have had an opportunity to talk about their experience, they've emphasized the importance of having information about what's happening to their brother or sister. They expressed the need for information about the disease and treatment, as well as information about the condition of their brother or sister. Shared information should be based upon the developmental level of the child.
Be honest; do not downplay what is happening. Children realize that something is wrong from your demeanor and that of concerned relatives and friends. Open and honest family communication is essential.
Some siblings have expressed the need to be involved in the sick child's cancer treatment experience. This may mean being allowed to visit at the hospital or some other activity outside the hospital setting that will give them the feeling of helping. Bringing the siblings to the hospital can give social work staff the opportunity to interact with parents and siblings, helping them through the cancer experience. Siblings may be afraid to ask questions of their parents. Talking with your kids together with hospital staff may help. Parents can give staff insight about the relationship of the siblings with the sick child.
It's important at this time that mom and dad try to find some way to spend some time with their healthy children. This may be as simple as going out for lunch or ice cream together. The quantity of time is not as important as the quality of individual attention paid to them.
This article is based on two PBTF Informed Parent & Survivor Internet Conferences: