Support Tools: Your Sibling has a Brain Tumour, Now What?

For many of us, the longest relationship that we have in life is with our sibling. Whether you are the best of friends or the worst of enemies, your sibling will be there to celebrate life’s sweet moments and be there for the rough spots. For some people this may include a brain tumour diagnosis. Now what?

After your brother or sister has been diagnosed, your view of the world may change. What you once thought could only happen to other people, has now happened to your family. As a result, you may feel a range of emotions that you have never felt before. 

Sadly, Mackenzie lost her brother to a brain tumour. She explained her thoughts about their brain tumour journey on her YouTube video series entitled “The Feelings Lab” (see video below). She was first sad her brother was in the hospital, then scared that he may die, and finally mad that most of the attention was on her brother and she was feeling left out.

These are just a few of the "big feelings" that are normal to experience when your sibling is diagnosed with a brain tumour. Parents and siblings should do their best to understand these feelings, as well as all the behaviours and emotions that go along with it. This will help make it easier to meet the needs of your family member.

It is easy for me to say that all you have to do is respond with empathy, love, and understanding, and that everything will be fine, but I think that is a “tad” too general and I hope that the suggestions below will help. 

Take steps to ensure that things stay simple and your daily routine stays 'normal' as much as possible. Organize a list, outline what is important to accomplish, and be sure to include activities that bring meaning and happiness to you. It’s hard to support your sibling throughout their journey if you are not first supporting yourself. This isn’t being selfish; it is making sure that you have what you need to get through the 'tough times'. 

Some siblings automatically go into “fix it” mode by starting to research online about various treatments, and will show up at the patient’s door with kale smoothies. If this describes your recent behaviour please know that while your sibling might appreciate what you are doing…they might appreciate it more if you would stop. Sometimes you might need to just sit with your sibling and be a “silent witness” to the recent changes and events in their life. You would be amazed what you can learn about a person you have known your entire life just by asking “hey…tell me how things are going”. 

Try not to think about what you want to say next, or begin to speak at those “pauses” that happen naturally in a conversation; try instead to concentrate and comprehend what has been said. Respond with empathy and understanding. This way of “active listening” will allow the necessary space and time for your sibling to unload what they are feeling, as well as validate their innermost thoughts and experiences.  

With all that being said, you still need to validate your own feelings and take care of yourself in the process. According to, common feelings that younger siblings may experience are feelings of guilt for not being the 'sick one', being fearful of death, feelings of jealousy, sadness, and grief. It is a little different if you are older, but not much. You may live far away and as a result may feel guilty for not feeling 'disrupted' from your siblings’ sickness. A sudden role change within the family may also happen, leaving you with new responsibilities. Not feeling in control or feeling overwhelmed is common; a brain tumour diagnosis affects everyone in the family but the effects will vary greatly by age and role.

An easy way to help manage these feelings is to acknowledge them for what they are and take special note that feeling this way does not make you a bad person. We are all human and will experience a range of emotions.

If you are still finding that you are feeling depressed, sad, or anxious, even after talking about it with close friends and family, give yourself permission to get help and seek the advice of a professional. No one needs to do “the journey” alone and having the support of a social worker or psychotherapist will allow you to explore these feelings in a safe environment. 

Some simple things that you can do to help your sibling through a brain tumour diagnosis is to help manage medical appointments, find supportive family members and friends, and create a “circle of care” around your sibling so that they feel supported. Ask what can be done to make life a little easier. Meal plan and stock up the freezer with healthy home cooked meals that can be easily warmed up and served. Join a support group and connect with others who may be experiencing the same difficulties. Share stories and encourage one another to talk about what you are feeling, live and enjoy life day-by-day.

Finally, don’t forget…the greatest gift your parents ever gave you was your siblings.

This article was written by one of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada's Support Services Specialists. 

The Feelings Lab

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For more information about support on the journey with a brain tumour, please contact us:

Cheryl Bauer
Support Services Specialist
1-800-265-5106/ 519-642-7755 ext. 400

Todd Goold
Support Services Specialist
1-800-265-5106/ 519-642-7755 ext. 237

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