Being a Sibling of a Cancer Patient


Pressing play on my life after pausing it to focus on my sister

I have often written about the many different roles and titles bestowed upon me since cancer enter our lives. Something that I haven’t really written about is the role of being a sibling with cancer. Yes, an obvious role given that my sister was diagnosed with cancer. But still, it is one of the more complex titles that I have been given throughout this journey.

The majority of patients and survivors have siblings — many of them falling into the pediatric category. But, in no way does age dictate difficulty of finding oneself in that role. Each age, each diagnosis and each specific scenario has its own complexities. Personally, most of mine came from not only being a sibling, but also being her caregiver. It was always a balance on trying to maintain both roles at the same time and how best to keep them separate.

Knowing somebody you love has cancer is a reality that is far from easy to reason with. Anxiety from all the unknowns that came from hearing those words is truly an unbearable feeling. The waiting manifested a severe sense of impatience that I had never experienced before in my life. Sleepless nights wanting to fall asleep, hoping that when I did wake, the nightmare would finally be over.

When my life was supposed to be about my own future, I made a chose to hit pause. Watching helplessly as my sister suffered and endured cancer is one of the hardest things that I have ever done. It is not something that I ever thought I would do in my life, and most certainly not something that I was prepared to do at the age of 23.

I walked away from a songwriting contract by making a choice to not go to Los Angeles, but instead to stay in Colorado by her side. I delayed college because I did not think that I would be able to be a good sister and support her with my nose buried in books. Instead, I traded music notes for drug regimens and common complications over musical compositions — an irony now as my chosen field of study is oncology nursing.

Although I did continue to partake in a social life, it was vastly limited. I didn’t attend parties because I felt guilty for doing so while she was in a hospital from months at a time. I stayed away from spending time with friends to stay at the hospital with her. In the beginning, I was so scared that if I did not spend the time with her that I wouldn’t have the time to spend with her later.

I don’t say these things because I regret my decisions, or because I expect empathy, sympathy or compassion for the choices that made. I don’t want gratitude for my so-called “sacrifices.” I share this because I am hopeful that by speaking up, my words will help to create a greater understanding as to what it is like to be an adult sibling to one who has cancer.

Everybody’s experience is different. Cancer is unique to each situation and the storm that surrounds a diagnosis. My sister and I have three other siblings who all went through this in vastly different ways than I have. Personally, I can say that I do have some regrets — moments that I wish I could go back and change. I’d change both how things unfolded and my own actions in those moments. The truth is that life does not work that way. So, while I chose to hit pause back in July of 2014, I am now making the choice to hit play.

Related Videos
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, and Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, experts on CLL
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, and Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, experts on CLL
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, and Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, experts on CLL
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, an expert on CLL
Video 8 - "Acalabrutinib-Based Treatment Clinical Trial Updates"
Video 7 - "Overview of Efficacy and Safety Data for Current CLL Treatment Options"
Image of Kristen Dahlgren at Extraordinary Healer.
Image of Kathy Mooney
Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, an expert on CLL
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, an expert on CLL