Dealing with the news my brother or sister's cancer can't be cured
There is no right or wrong way to feel or act when you’ve been told your sister or brother is dying. It sucks, and you can deal with it however you need to (as long as you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else). If you’ve been hanging on to the hope that their cancer will be cured and life will go back to the way it was before, the news they may not get better will really rattle you. This could be a time of great uncertainty and fear. You may not know for sure what is actually going on or what you’re supposed to do now.
Get all the information
Getting the right information is so important. It can help you understand what is going to happen to your sister or brother so you can support them and be prepared for it yourself. See the tips for getting answers.
What you might be feeling
During this time you and your family will face a lot of new challenges and you may go through lots of different emotions. Some of the feelings you had when you first found out about their cancer may come back, plus there may be some new ones, like:
- Shock/disbelief – you can’t believe that this is really happening.
- Denial – pretending everything’s normal might be easier than accepting that your sister or brother might die. It’s a way of coping and can give you some time to come to terms with what’s happening. But if it continues it can get in the way of you dealing with the reality and getting support you might need.
- Empty/numb. This doesn’t mean that you don’t care – it might just be your way of protecting yourself.
- Guilt. You might feel guilty that you didn’t help enough, or about all of the fights and nasty things you’ve said or thought about your sister or brother. It’s not your fault that any of this is happening.
- Fear – Not knowing what’s going to happen is very scary. You probably also have lots of fears about the future – What will my family be like without them? Will my parents ever be happy again? Will I ever feel happy again?
- Anger – What is happening is so unfair and you have a right to be mad! But try to find positive ways to release your anger and stress.
- Sadness and despair – Thinking about your future without your sister or brother in it can be desperately, heartbreakingly sad. Despair is when you feel utterly hopeless and lost. If you feel like this, it can be really helpful to someone you trust about it.
- Hope. You can shift your hope from hoping your sister or brother would get better, to hoping that they will make it to Christmas, or that you can have one more family holiday together.
A lot of how you deal with this news might depend on how those around you are dealing with it. However you feel, you’re not the first or only one. Log in to the Canteen Community to chat with and read stories by other young people whose sister or brother has cancer or has died from cancer. Or talk to a Canteen counsellor about what you’re going through.
Grieving before your sister or brother dies
Usually people think of grief only as something you experience after someone you love dies. It’s possible to feel grief when you know you are about to lose something that is important to you, before it happens. This is called ‘anticipatory grief’ and often happens when someone you love is expected to die.
Waiting for your sister’s or brother’s death to happen – and knowing you cannot stop it – can be just as painful and hard to deal with as the death itself. It can be really confusing, with heaps of mixed feelings and you might not be sure how you’re supposed to act.
There will be lots of sadness, but there will be good days too – make the most of them. Everyone in your family is experiencing their own feelings of loss and grief, but they may be showing it in different ways. They may also be trying to hide it. You might find it really scary or upsetting to see your parents so stressed. And you might miss the way things used to be. But grief is normal and things will eventually settle down.
It can be important that you try to understand and get a handle on your grief so that you have the energy to make the most of your time with your sister or brother and say the things you need to say. It can help to [talk to a counsellor] or connect with other young people who understand what you’re going through in the Canteen Community.