Creating a tenuous balance: siblings' experience of a brother's or sister's childhood cancer diagnosis

J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. Jan-Feb 2015;32(1):21-31. doi: 10.1177/1043454214555194. Epub 2014 Nov 12.


More than 14,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year. Prolonged, intensive treatment protocols disrupt the entire family, including siblings. Here, we employed grounded theory methodology to examine the experiences of 30 nonbereaved adolescent siblings of children receiving cancer treatment. The central organizing theme of the emergent data is "creating a tenuous balance." Contributing themes include (a) knowing something is seriously wrong, (b) figuring out the meaning of cancer, (c) adapting to changes in personal and family life, and (d) handling emotional reactions to cancer. Overall, findings suggest an ongoing, active process by which siblings notice and adapt to the many unexpected and taxing aspects of their brother's or sister's cancer diagnosis and treatment, including shifts in how the family system operates. Findings highlight the important role of siblings in family-centered cancer care. Future, larger scale research should develop targeted interventions for these siblings.

Keywords: cancer; family; pediatric; psychosocial; sibling.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Siblings / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • United States