My Sister Has Childhood Cancer

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
January 24, 2012

“This I Believe” by Fiona, 14, sister to Grace, 10, medulloblastoma

Some people think life’s unfair when they’re cut from the basketball team, end up with a terrible science partner, or drop their ice cream cone. Few know the unfairness that comes from the words, “Your sister has cancer.”

In 2007, when I was 9, my sister Grace was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Grace received monthly treatments, often staying at the hospital for a week at a time. I was sad because I wasn’t able to spend time with my sister the way that I could before, and afraid because I didn’t know if Grace would survive. These feelings taught me that empathy is important.

Hospital life challenged my sister. While her friends were playing outside and learning to read in school, Grace was inside, in a bed, being poked with needles. As her sister, I saw how tough this was for her. Grace’s life was not fair. Children’s time should be spent having fun, not stuck in a hospital. Being a cancer patient is difficult and lonely. Understanding Grace’s emotions during her treatment was vital to help her.

In addition to my sister’s struggles, this experience was hard on me. Siblings of cancer kids can feel ignored. My parents had to give Grace constant attention. People would ask me how my sister was doing, but they wouldn’t ask me how I felt or how I was doing. I appreciated that my friends were worried about Grace, but I was frustrated when people didn’t acknowledge my feelings. Siblings of sick children need attention, too. Cancer affects the whole family.

Before this experience, I admit I complained about minor disappointments. But during Grace’s treatment, my family often couldn’t eat dinner together. Suddenly, not making the basketball team was no big deal. I have learned that when you think life is unfair, you have to empathize with people who are facing bigger challenges, even if your biggest challenge is cancer.

I believe that it is important to understand others. This isn’t just true for families of kids with cancer; it’s important always. The best way to help and support is by understanding. When people face depression, anger, fear, confusion, or any other feeling, we must be compassionate. Being able to identify with others in order to help them is a wonderful trait. I believe in empathy.

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Read more about Grace on the St. Baldrick’s blog:
Meet Grace
With Child, Without Hair: A 46 Momma (and Mom-to-Be) Shaves for the Fourth Time
Giving Up Birthdays for a Friend with Childhood Cancer
Another Christmas With Grace