Growing up with cancer: Communication patterns among healthy siblings of childhood cancer survivors




Sinclair, Kristen

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The aim of this qualitative study was to uncover the experiences of healthy siblings during their ill sibling's childhood cancer event. This is a retrospective study focusing on the adult perspective of past events. Fifteen adult participants were interviewed to find out if their sibling's childhood cancer event had changed how the family communicated with one another and, in turn, shaped their present interactions. With the help of in-depth interviews, participants recalled their everyday experience and the changes in their families after diagnosis and treatment of their sibling's cancer. Overall, this study reveals that healthy siblings experienced emotional strain, behavioral changes, and a loss of communication within the family. Emotional strain was marked by feelings of loneliness, feeling forgotten, and feeling ignored. In terms of behavior, they became more independent, more compassionate, and took on new roles in the family such as care-taking and assisting with household chores. The majority of respondents reported less communication with their parents about their sibling's cancer event. Most parents did not talk to the healthy siblings about cancer, and most healthy siblings often chose not to talk to parents about their ill sibling's cancer. This led the children to make sense of the illness on their own, impacting their understanding of cancer, as there was little co-construction within the family system. A Grounded Theory approach helped to generate rich descriptions. Themes and categories emerging out of the interviews were analyzed with the framework of Systems Theory and Symbolic Interactionism.


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Cancer, Family, Health, Healthy Siblings, Interpersonal