Getting support when my brother or sister's cancer can't be cured

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Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard your sister or brother has fought, how positive you all have been or how many different treatments the doctors tried, some cancers can’t be cured. When your sister’s or brother’s cancer does not respond to treatment aimed at reducing or controlling it, a doctor may say it is no longer curable. This means they will not get better and it is likely they will die from the cancer at some point.

At this stage usually active treatment and testing will be stopped. Your sister or brother will be given medicines for pain and to relieve symptoms like nausea and vomiting. This is called palliative care and is aimed at making them as comfortable as possible.

Getting answers

Families often try to protect each other by not talking about the really hard and hurtful stuff. Sometimes parents try to hide things to help you cope. But tell them if you want to know what’s likely to happen to your sister or brother so you can be ready to deal with it. Ask as many questions as you want and as often as you want.

  • Why did this happen?

  • How do you know that there are no more treatments to try?

  • How long do they have?

  • What will happen to them? Will it hurt?

  • How will we know when death is close?

  • What do we do if my sister or brother dies at home?

It is really difficult for a doctor to accurately predict exactly how long your sister or brother will live. They may give an estimate, but keep in mind that your sister or brother may live longer, or, unfortunately, for less time than the doctor predicts.

How your sister or brother might feel

Being told that they are not going to recover from their cancer is probably the hardest and most frightening thing any person will ever hear. It’s hard to imagine what they will be feeling, but it’s probably a combination of shock, disbelief, fear, anger, loneliness and desperate sadness.

Talking about it

You may have lots of questions, or you may not be ready to talk about it yet. Your brother or sister may want to talk about what is happening – or they may definitely NOT want to talk about it.

The best plan is to follow their lead. Don’t force them to talk; give them permission to not have to. If your brother or sister wants to talk, listen. Talking about death with does not mean that you have given up hope or that you want them to die.

When you are both able, you might like to talk about their wishes for what will happen at the end of their life.

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