Dealing with the emotional effects of cancer on siblings

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Best friends or sworn enemies? Probably both – and it can move from one to the other in just a few seconds.

Whatever your relationship with your brother or sister was like before, it’s likely to change – for better or worse – now that cancer has come into your life.

How you got on with your siblings before the cancer will affect how you get on now, but it’s likely your relationships will change. You may stop arguing about the small stuff, but you will probably still argue about some things.

If you have had to move back to the family home, this may have a big impact on your siblings. 

Try to imagine how they are feeling. They are probably worried about you and may not know how to tell or show you.

You might find that older siblings become protective of you. This can be okay, but it can be annoying to feel like you have another parent. 

Being in hospital for a long time can affect your relationships with your siblings. You might feel like you don’t have as many things in common anymore – like going to school, hanging out and just doing normal stuff. Even if you fought and annoyed each other, you might be surprised at how much you miss them.

Siblings can be a useful link between you and your friends at school, uni and TAFE and the rest of your world. For some people, they find that the cancer experience actually brings them closer together with their siblings.

Try not to underestimate how your diagnosis will affect your siblings. Depending on their age, they might also be feeling:

  • scared about what’s going to happen to you
  • angry about extra responsibilities they have to take on
  • guilty because they can still go out and have fun when you can’t, or for complaining about having to help out
  • lonely and neglected – like no one understands or cares about them.

There will naturally be lots of focus on you, and your siblings may feel a bit left out and even resentful. This can show itself in various ways like not wanting to visit you in hospital, saying mean things, ignoring you or behaving badly.

Sometimes, siblings avoid their brother or sister who has cancer. Many say it is because they can’t bear to see them in pain.

We all react differently to difficult situations and express our fears and pain in different ways. Understanding what is going on for your siblings may help you understand why they behave like they do, and make sense of what can be a super tricky situation.

Support for your siblings

There are ways you can help your sibling understand what you are going through. You can start by talking with them about how you are both feeling. Canteen provides a lot of additional resources on supporting siblings with cancer. You can find them at

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