Blog Post | Apr 09, 2024

Siblings Day: How pediatric cancer affects siblings

By Regan Henkey
By The Austin Hatcher Foundation
Siblings Day: How pediatric cancer affects siblings

The Austin Hatcher Foundation provides childhood cancer support to the entire family, with 50% of our patients being the brother or sister of a diagnosed child. There are many ways a childhood cancer diagnosis affects siblings.


April 10 is National Siblings Day, a time to celebrate and honor siblings. Unfortunately, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family feels the effects. This includes siblings of diagnosed children, and the Austin Hatcher Foundation recognizes siblings are affected differently than parents and even the child who has been diagnosed. Just like all members of the family, siblings' feelings need to be addressed, as they need different forms of support throughout diagnosis and treatment. The Austin Hatcher Foundation serves the entire family, with around 50% of our patients being the brother or sister of a diagnosed child. The Foundation provides comprehensive, coordinated care to help siblings (and the entire family) cope in the present and thrive in the future following their brother/sister's childhood cancer diagnosis.

It is important to support siblings throughout the cancer journey, however, siblings are often (understandably) the overlooked family member in the family’s cancer journey. There are several key strategies to guide families in supporting siblings. These strategies include communicating clearly when discussing cancer to avoid misunderstanding and fear, sticking to routines to maintain a sense of normalcy, spending quality time with each sibling and supporting their favorite activities, recognizing and validating siblings' emotions along with providing outlets, nurturing sibling relationships through games, movies, and activities, and facilitating communication between siblings to help them feel connected. To view the full guide visit our resource guide on our website.

How does a childhood cancer diagnosis affect siblings?

There are many ways a childhood cancer diagnosis affects siblings, and according to the National Library of Medicine, up to 63% of siblings have adjustment difficulties throughout cancer treatment. Additionally, even two years after a child finishes cancer treatment, emotional and social problems can persist for siblings. For the initial diagnosis and the nature of childhood cancer, the sudden and significant disruptions to their lives, such as decreased parental attention, can leave siblings often feeling overwhelmed. While research shows that siblings experience both negative and positive emotions attached to their sibling being diagnosed with cancer, it is important to be aware of the effects a diagnosis has on a sibling's school performance, emotional well-being, drive to do daily activities and overall happiness.

How the Austin Hatcher Foundation supports siblings through their experience of childhood cancer:

At the Austin Hatcher Foundation (AHF), our licensed therapists, counselors, and experienced staff come alongside families for mental and behavioral health therapy and programs every day. AHF provides comprehensive, coordinated care through evidence-based therapies, counseling, family programs, grief groups, educational resources, and more, fostering resilience and hope for families. All of our services are offered from diagnosis through survivorship for the entire family, so if siblings continue struggling with feelings and emotions related to their siblings' cancer journey (which is totally normal), we are here to provide solutions every step of the way.

Specifically for siblings of diagnosed children, we provide a variety of family programs to help navigate a childhood cancer diagnosis. Our Family Programs are open to any child who has been affected by pediatric cancer, whether it was themselves (patient, survivor) or a sibling. AHF offers Parents' Night Out, Teen Nights, Tutoring, Young Adult Nights, Siblings Days, and Enrichment Camps (including summer camps, winter camps, and life skills days), in addition to mental and behavioral health services like counseling and therapy. The Foundation’s family programs are a space for children to make lasting connections with others who have gone through a similar experience, as well as benefit from Diversionary Therapy during games, crafts, STEM activities, and more.

All of our services are provided at no cost whatsoever to families and patients. The Austin Hatcher Foundation is dedicated to making life better for the entire family going through the childhood cancer journey.

Activities siblings of childhood cancer families can do together

While AHF offers online resources such as grief support and therapy resources, in honor of National Siblings Day, we want to provide some fun and interactive activities that siblings can do together at home. Pediatric cancer is challenging not only for the patient, but for their entire family, and having activities to help siblings bond throughout diagnosis and treatment can be beneficial, help maintain a sense of normalcy, and be an outlet for both patients' and siblings' feelings.

Simple, fun, and interactive activities for sibling bonding:

  • Arts and crafts: Painting, drawing, making friendship bracelets, scrapbooking, and other artistic activities.
  • Board games and puzzles: This can help siblings bond with each other while still having fun doing an entertaining activity.
  • Movie nights: Have each sibling pick their favorite movie, along with their favorite movie snack! This is a great way to spend time together and lift spirits.
  • Cooking or baking: Have siblings bake or cook each other's favorite dessert or meal together. This teaches life skills while incorporating an act of kindness.
  • Reading books: Reading can be relaxing and fun! Have siblings read a book together and they can even take turns choosing what to read.
  • Outdoor activities: Play sports together, go on a walk, or have siblings create their own game!
  • Indoor activities: Kids can play the floor is lava, freeze dance to their favorite songs, or make up their own game!

For families who are unable to visit our Educational Advancement Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we have a new, growing program called “Hatch’s Hero,” a community-based advocacy program created to support families all across the nation.  “Hatch’s Hero” aims to celebrate the uniqueness of each family's childhood cancer story while offering support and community every step of the way. As part of this program, families will be sent a Hero box with t-shirts for the entire family, activities, and more to help support families no matter where they are in their journey.

About the Austin Hatcher Foundation

At the Austin Hatcher Foundation, our goal is to make life better for childhood cancer families by providing services for the entire family at absolutely no cost. The experience of childhood cancer goes beyond diagnosis and affects every individual family member differently. All family members need unique solutions to the challenges they face. During and after treatment, the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer is here to provide the solutions and walk through every step of a family’s recovery journey.


For more information on sibling support

For more information about Hatch’s Hero

For more information on activities for children with cancer

For more information about AHF services

Extra Research Resources: