Coping at home when my brother or sister has cancer

No matter how much you hoped it wouldn’t, life changed once your sister or brother was diagnosed with cancer.

Do these things sound familiar?

  • You’re doing more around the house. Have you had to find the washing machine or clean the toilet yet?
  • You’re home alone more (and you thought that might be fun).
  • You’re looking after younger brothers and sisters.
  • You have to stay with relatives and friends.
  • You don’t get to spend as much time with your friends.
  • You can’t remember the last home-cooked meal you had – unless you count cheese on toast. (See below for tips on cooking.)

If you have taken on extra roles at home with the family, especially if you’re still at school, studying or working, being organised can help.

  • You might need a weekly planner if you have a big family and you need to keep track of everyone’s schedules. The calendar on your phone might just not cope!
  • Planning meals for the week will take the stress out of making dinner each night and help with the shopping.
  • If you’re also responsible for doing the shopping and maybe paying bills, you might have to do a budget.
  • If you can afford it, or find an organisation that offers this kind of help, get someone in to help with cleaning or ironing.

One of the (many) tasks you may have had to take on while your brother or sister is sick is cooking meals for yourself or maybe for the whole family. Before now maybe your experience in the kitchen was limited to standing in front of the fridge looking for something to snack on.

Living on takeaway is okay when things are completely out of control, but cooking for yourself and your family is healthier and cheaper.

Ideas to get started

The following tips will help to make cooking a little less stressful and mealtimes a little less boring: 

  • If cooking is new to you find some simple recipes that don’t have too many ingredients or too much preparation. Log in to the CanTeen Community and check out the forum where young people have posted recipes and tips.
  •  Ask your parent/s or someone else to show you some basic things to get started like how to turn the oven on and how to store cooked food safely.
  • Stock up on things like pasta, bottles of pasta sauce, pizza bases and other healthy pre-prepared meals.
  • Buy some frozen meals to have as emergencies. Check out the freezer section of the supermarket – there are lots to choose from.
  • If you have to cook for the whole family reserve one ‘cooking day’ a week to make big batches of family food that can be frozen then reheated (or added to lunch boxes) without too much effort.
  • Planning your meals for the week can be really helpful. This will also help with the shopping.
  • Don’t stress about whether the final meal looks perfect – as long as it tastes good! Once you get into it, you may really enjoy cooking.
  • The smell of food can sometimes make a sick person feel worse, and make eating more difficult, so try cooking and serving food outside or place a fan behind the table so the smells are blown away.
  • Some drugs and chemotherapies can make food taste metallic, so if your brother or sister is having this side effect from treatment, try serving dishes with plastic utensils, chop-sticks or porcelain spoons.
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits can be easier to eat when they are juiced, but some acidic juices (like tomato) can hurt if your brother or sister has mouth ulcers. Drinking with a straw or adding aloe vera juice (you can get this from health food stores) might help.
  • Getting enough protein (from nuts, beans and lentils, eggs, fish, meats and dairy products) is very important, especially when someone is ill.  But, sometimes protein can be difficult to digest, so protein powder can be sprinkled on or added to most foods and non-meat sources like tofu are pretty easy to use.
  • Clear broths and soups made with fresh organic ingredients can provide plenty of nutrition and are easy to eat. Make lots and freeze some for later.
  • Eating favourite foods when you are sick or nauseous can sometimes turn you off them. Wait until your brother or sister feels better and then make those these dishes for a special occasion or celebration with friends and family.
  • If your brother or sister is in hospital, hospital food can be awful – bringing in a homemade meal or sandwich may be a welcome treat.