Child Quote: ’When my brother had cancer he got all the attention.’
The diagnosis of childhood cancer or a life threatening blood disorder in a child changes a family’s life, never to be the same again because roles and routines are drastically disturbed. Amidst the emotional turmoil there is also so much more to do, sort and coordinate. Life is turned upside down and understandably, the sick child becomes the parent’s priority. Healthy siblings are at risk of becoming the “silent sufferers”.
Khaya was four years old when his brother Simamkele was diagnosed with rethinoblastoma – (cancer of the eye). “When my brother had cancer he got all the attention, him and my mom were always away for his treatment and my aunt had to come live with us to look after me,” says Khaya. I was very sad, I did not see my mom for six months and Sima could not play with me for three whole years,” cries Khaya. At some point I thought mom was angry with me or maybe I had caused Sima’s sickness, Khaya continued.
The CHOC Social Workers hear too many stories like Khaya’s from siblings who had their brother or sister diagnosed with cancer or life threatening blood disorders. Having identified all the above, CHOC and JFF host a sibling’s camp around May every year at Kwalata Game Reserve in Hammanskraal, Gauteng.
Every year the CHOC Social Workers and volunteers watch the same scenario play itself out as they travel to Kwalata with the siblings. Often the children cling to their pillows or sit in the corner of their seat not wanting anyone to come close to them. These feelings are however short-lived as it does not take long for them to get engrossed in all the camp activities as they soon realise they are not alone – all the children at the camp have a brother or sister with cancer or a life threatening blood disorder. They share their thoughts and feelings around their brother or sister’s illness and how it impacts their lives. Questions around the actual illness are answered and all the gaps are addressed and their own imagination is clarified.
“The transformation in the children is absolutely amazing to see,” says Alta the psychosocial programme manager at CHOC. “Following the camp parents share their gratitude. They are amazed at how empowered their children are. They feel it is a burden shared and are then able to talk openly about the sick child. The siblings cannot stop talking about the fun they had at the camp and just want to know when they can go again!” says Alta laughing.