Advice from a Sibling of a Childhood Cancer Survivor

When I blew out my candles on my sixth birthday, my only wish was that I had cancer.  

I was 6, so obviously I did not comprehend the extent of what I was wishing for, but at the time it was the thing I wanted the most.  

Four years earlier, my younger brother Connor was diagnosed with cancer. At that exact moment, everything became about him. My parents were constantly giving him their undivided attention. I saw this, and it really hurt. All I wanted from them was everything Connor was getting. Of course, with age I have come to see that rarely any of their time with him was pleasant. They should have been making baby albums and soaking up all of the glory of having a new child, but instead they were having to make life and death decisions. They were going through one of the worst possible things that could happen to parents, especially parents that love their children as fiercely as mine do. Despite how much they love me, they could not give me the same amount of attention as Connor. I ultimately wished for cancer because I believed this was the only way to get what my brother was getting.  

Read more: Cancer Parents' Advice to Themselves

The Moment Everything Changed  

When Connor was six weeks old, he suffered a stroke. At the hospital, a CT scan found a tumor the size of an adult fist taking up the left side of his brain, and he had to immediately go into emergency brain surgery. He was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma. He had to go through intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.  

I did not truly understand everything that he went through until I was much older. All I grasped at the time was that as a family, we were terrified, and that I needed to start dealing with my problems on my own.  I felt the need to take care of myself and be the perfect child so that my parents did not have any more to deal with. Connor now deals with the long-term side effects of the cancer treatments he went through at such a young age, the worst of which are his frequent seizures. These take a toll on everybody in the family, and it is heartbreaking watching him suffer so much every day. These seizures have made my role as a sibling even more difficult. 

Read More: Tips for age-appropriate conversations about cancer treatment

Growing Up and Growing Apart 

As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I find myself wishing that I could have a normal brother; Connor, but with both halves of his brain.  I could feel equally as loved as my younger brother, and I could get to experience having a sibling the same way everyone else.

Joselyn and Connor together in 2012.

Even though Connor and I are aging at the exact same rate, it feels like I am the only one getting older. When we were both small kids, we could play pretend and run around the yard just like every other pair of brother and sister. But as the years went on, I had to start growing up. Connor’s interests have changed from toy trains to video games, but it still feels like he is so much younger than a 15-year-old boy.  I love him more than anything and I am so grateful that he is here today, but I will never be able to escape the feeling that I am missing out on the whole sibling experience. This is not a feeling that I enjoy sharing, and I have never been able to express it to my parents out of the fear that they would not understand.  

Another difficult thing I have to deal with every day is never knowing what to expect around my house. I often come home from amazing days, so excited to tell my parents about everything, but if Connor has a rough day with seizures or school work, nobody is in a good mood. When in these situations I do what I can to be supportive, but I ultimately have to go spend some time alone. I can never properly empathize with what my parents are going through, and vice versa.

I often distract myself when the emotions are too much by going on drives or finding friends to hang out with. My parents know they need to be lenient in situations where I just need to get out of the house, and I deeply appreciate that. If you are a sibling of someone with cancer, do whatever you need to do to help make this situation easier, and know that your feelings are valid. 

Read more: Tips for Bringing a Meal to a Cancer Family

My Advice to Siblings Like Me: 

There are so many things that the siblings feel that they keep to themselves. There is no good way to tell your parents that you do not feel like anyone cares that you are part of your own family. If you are a sibling reading this, know that you can talk to your parents about how you feel, and they do not love you any less. They care about you and want to be there for you. Nobody is going to judge you for admitting that what you are going through is hard. 

 If you are a sibling of someone who has experienced childhood cancer, you need to know that you are not alone. You are amazing and people recognize how hard you are working. You do not need to be perfect. There are so many other people out there who are going through what you are going through, and at the end of the day everything is going to be okay. I promise we are all unbelievably proud of you.  

My Advice to Parents Like Mine: 

If you are a parent raising children in this situation, know everyone else is also proud of you. My advice to you is this: please make sure you do what you can for your other kids. Spend time with them when you can and try not to let bad days affect how you treat them. Go to important events, support them and make sure they feel loved. Siblings do not want to be a burden on you. We see how hard things are and we do not want to make them worse. Make sure your children know that they do not have to be perfect and that it is okay to have problems. Just because they act tough does not mean that they are not having just as hard of a time.

Overall, we know you love us, and we love you; but please do not let it get to the point where we think the only solution is being diagnosed with cancer as well.  

Written by Joselyn Dykes

Joselyn grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin and has been part of the cancer world since her brother, Connor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor as an infant. Today, Joselyn enjoys reading, hanging out with friends and spending time with all the animals she can. After graduating high school in the class of 2023, she plans to attend a four-year university and pursue a career in literature.

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