How a child's cancer affects his siblings

Stuart E. Siegel, MD Director, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, shares advice for parents on how siblings can be affected when a child is diagnosed with cancer
Pediatric Cancer Advice | How A Child's Cancer Affects His Siblings
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How a child's cancer affects his siblings

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The sibling is often the forgotten person in the equation when the child gets cancer. First of all, again, it depends on the age, but the kids who are old enough and get that something is happening, they get scared. What's happening to my brother or sister? Why are my parents crying? Why are they upset? Why is my brother or the sister in the hospital? Why is his hair falling out, if they've started on treatment or things like this. So, one of the real principals that we all follow is that we talk to the brothers and sisters, to the siblings. We don't just talk to the patient, and the mother and father. We talk to the brothers and sisters. I always ask the parents at the initial discussion, when I know that the child has cancer, I ask them about their brothers and sisters. How old are they? How they've reacted to this? And tell them that I want the opportunity to talk to the brothers and sisters separately. So, they have their own opportunity to ask question that maybe they are afraid to ask in front of people. And, make sure that they have the answers they need. I also encourage strongly the parents to keep the brothers and sisters in the flow, in the loop as to what's happening their ill brother or sister. And not to hide it. Because, that will just heighten their fear. One of the examples, interesting example of this interaction brother and sister, we started camping kids with cancer. And, did that for several years. And the kids had a wonderful time. But, they went home and their brothers and sisters who were trying to understand what it happened, they say, "Wait a second, why don't we have a chance to go to camp? It's such a great time. Do we have to have cancer to go to camp?" That raised a red flag for us. And we said, "These brothers and sisters need to be together. They need to have the same experiences." So, we now have the brothers and sisters able to come to camp with their ill brother and sister. They can't be forgotten. That's the key. They got to be part of equation. The parents have to pay attention to them, which often naturally they shift most of their attention towards the ill child. They got to remember they got to spend quality time with the siblings and make sure they let them talk about how they're feeling and what their questions are.

Stuart E. Siegel, MD Director, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, shares advice for parents on how siblings can be affected when a child is diagnosed with cancer

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Stuart E. Siegel, MD

Director, Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Before recently shifting his focus to international medicine, Stuart Siegel, MD, was Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology for 35 years and the founding director of the the Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Professor and Head of the Division of Hematology-Oncology Department of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. He remains a leader in supportive care and research in pediatric oncology, with a special focus on neuroblastoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Ewing Sarcoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and brain tumors. From developing the first pediatric protective environment in 1971 for children undergoing intensive chemotherapy, to pioneering current efforts to develop academic and clinical care programs nationally and locally for adolescents and young adults with cancer, Dr. Siegel’s contributions have revolutionized the field of pediatric oncology. Dr. Siegel has been honored for his work by the American Cancer Society, Children Foundation, the Cancer Foundation, the Chase Foundation, Padres Contra El Cancer, the Israel Cancer Research Fund and Ronald McDonald House Charities, where he is a member of the National Board, and has consistently been listed among the nation’s top doctors in such publications asAmerica’s Top Doctors and Best Doctors in America. He is a father of one son, Joshua; grandfather of David and Elijah; and lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife of seven years.

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