SIBS Camp Needs You!

“Why do siblings of cancer patients need special attention when they don’t have cancer?”

Okizu is looking for caring, enthusiastic volunteers to fill counselor positions at our summer camp for the siblings of childhood cancer patients. These SIBS (Special and Important Brothers and Sisters) are a unique group and very much in need of their own programs and very deserving of your time and energy. Why do siblings need their own camp when they don’t have cancer? The question itself exemplifies the problem – because they are healthy we assume that they don’t have needs. The following excerpt from Cancer Nursing helps to explain some of the difficulties that siblings face and why they need their own programs. In light of the complexity of the siblings programs, I urge you to read the whole article before deciding which of our programs you would like to apply for.

Impact on Siblings

This information was taken from the article “Childhood Cancer: Meeting the Special Needs of Healthy Siblings” in Cancer Nursing, written by Robin Kramer, R.N., M.S., P.N.P., and Ida Marie More, R.N., M.A.

“The diagnosis of childhood cancer represents a situational crisis suddenly imposed upon the family… Family life begins to revolve around the sick child whose needs demand enormous amounts of parental nurturance, time and energy. The preoccupation with the sick child limits the parents ability to attend to and support the needs of the healthy children in the family. In fact, research studies have suggested the healthy siblings experience stress similar to that of the ill child, which is of equal or greater intensity.

One of the most disruptive and stressful consequences the healthy siblings face is the frequent family separation caused by repeated hospitalizations and trips to the medical center for treatment. The well children find themselves pushed to the background, often staying at the homes of family and friends. Long distances and strict hospital rules may interfere with visitation. Because of their less integral role, the healthy siblings experience feelings of isolation and find it difficult to keep informed about the child’s condition. More often then not, they are confused and anxious about the cause of the illness, inventing private versions laced with misconceptions or magical thinking. Fears abound about their own illness vulnerability wondering for example, if cancer is contagious.

Studies have found that the healthy children experience drastic changes in their relationship with parents and the ill sibling. A shift in family dynamics occurs typically with the sick child becoming the focus of parental attention and concerns. The preoccupation results in the well children complaining about diminished parental physical and emotional availability. Also, the ill child receives preferential treatment, with parents tending to be more lenient in discipline as well as overindulgent and overprotective. Consequently, sibling rivalry intensifies with the healthy siblings feeling jealous and resentful of this inequitable treatment. However, they are reticent about confronting their parents. This reluctance has been postulated to stem from insecurity about the precarious position in the family, fearing that complaining may worsen the situation. The healthy siblings are also reported to feel ashamed of these negative feelings, expressing guilt for being the “healthy one” which itself denies the right to complain. These internalized feelings of shame and guilt can be tormenting especially when intensified by fears of the ill child’s possible death.

The healthy siblings also report that the illness strains relationships with their classmates. Initially, friends, not knowing what to say or fearing that cancer is contagious often make themselves scarce. Out of fear and ignorance insensitive teasing can occur which intensifies feelings of isolation. The well children may even alienate themselves from friends because of temporary changes in their own personality such as moodiness and depression. It is unfortunate that at a time when family support is unavailable the usual camaraderie and emotional exchange provide by peers is also lacking. Clearly, the healthy siblings of cancer patients have a unique set of problems with which they must cope.”

Questions about Okizu’s SIBS Programs? Email katie@okizu.org or call the Okizu office at 415.382.9083.