Psychological effects on adults of having a sibling with cancer are revealed in a new study

Adult siblings whose brother or sister has cancer can experience severe psychological distress, but it is often overlooked for lack of support, a new Irish study has found.

he first scientific study to examine the psychological effects of cancer on adult siblings found that they can suffer from deep emotions.

The research results of Hazel Burke and Dr. Simon Dunne from Dublin City University (DCU) School of Psychology were published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

“Our study shows how siblings are overlooked when there is a cancer diagnosis in the family,” Ms Burke said.

“This research may allow cancer support organizations to identify gaps in their service to siblings and help siblings feel that their grief, emotions and experiences are valid and that they are not alone.”

The research included interviews with adults aged 20 to 65 whose siblings with cancer were either living or deceased.

Respondents reported that their grief was often forgotten, and even when this was acknowledged, some adult siblings felt their grief was less important than that of their living parents.

“A cancer diagnosis is increasingly viewed as a traumatic event that affects the whole family,” said Dr. thin.

After his brother-in-law’s death from cancer, he was asked to look at this area.

“There are cancer organizations that offer support for siblings. However, the fact that many of those we interviewed felt that nothing was available for them means that cancer groups need to do much more to show what is available for siblings.

“Sibling relationships are one of the longest and most meaningful people experience over a lifetime, and we wanted to fill a gap in research on the impact of cancer on adult siblings.

“Providing psychological support to siblings of cancer patients will ensure they receive the best possible support and care, helping them to cope with the serious psychological challenges they may be facing.”

The study states, “Participants acknowledged that their grief was not recognized in the same way as their parents’ grief.”

Amy (sister, survivor) said: “It felt like my parents lost a child, but it wasn’t like we lost a sibling. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

Respondents also felt that their grief as adults was less important than the grief of other family members and that their role prevented them from grieving.

Anne, whose brother died of cancer, said: “I remember thinking as a sibling that you felt less justified compared to other family members. You can’t wallow. You can’t mourn like that, you don’t feel justified [to do that].

“Adult sibling grief is about supporting others. But my grief is valid and you almost feel like you have less right to grieve than your parents or partner.”

The study indicated that this feeling that sibling grief is being overlooked or forgotten is also reflected in participants’ perceptions that the support services available to family members of cancer patients are not designed for, or applicable to, siblings.

Orla, whose sister had cancer, said: “This is going to sound so silly now, but I didn’t know there was support. One day I saw a big sign of support from loved ones of people with cancer.

“I can’t remember exactly what I’m thinking anyway, I just saw a big sign. And I think that just goes to show how busy I’ve been. I said, ‘Oh, that’s not for me. This is for the people who are related to someone with cancer’.”

Participants did not know where to look for support and noted a distinct lack of signage of sibling services.

Amanda, who has lost a brother, said: “It honestly never crossed my mind to seek help or even a support group. I don’t even know if there are support groups.”

Overall, most participants recognized the importance of exercise and support from physical activity.

Isabel said: “One of the things that was really good for me mentally was that I got out, put on my hiking boots and hiked those hills on my own. I wouldn’t date anyone for the first few months and put on my headphones.

“And I was walking and walking and a certain song came on. And I would realize tears were running down my face [but] I wasn’t aware of that.”

Others said staying positive helped them deal with the emotions associated with a sibling going through cancer. Journaling was also useful for processing events. Psychological effects on adults of having a sibling with cancer are revealed in a new study

Fry Electronics Team

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