The Experience of Therapeutic Support Groups by Siblings of Children with Cancer

Margaretha Nolbris, PhDc, MSc, RN; Jonas Abrahamsson, MD, PhD; Anna-Lena Hellström, PhD, RN; Lisa Olofsson, MSc, RN; Karin Enskär, PhD, RN


Pediatr Nurs. 2010;36(6):298-304. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family, including siblings, lives in fear of how the cancer will affect the sick child and how it will influence other family members. The aim of this article is to describe the experiences expressed by the siblings in a support group environment when their families have or have had a child diagnosed with cancer. Fifteen siblings 8 to 19 years of age with a brother or sister who was receiving treatment for or had died from cancer were interviewed after participating in therapeutic support groups. These interviews were conducted two weeks after the last group interaction and were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Regardless of gender and age, the siblings felt a sense of belonging and comfort by being in a group, which they appreciated. They were able to share their experiences and help each other with advice and encouragement. They all drew strength from each other. A therapeutic support group for siblings of children with cancer is beneficial. Follow-up interviews with the siblings indicated they found the groups helpful in coping with their situation.


The bond between siblings is unique and full of different emotions (Ainsworth, 1991; Bank & Kahn, 1997; Bowlby, 1969; Cicirelli, 1995; Giovanola, 2005; Lindsay & MacCarthy, 1974; Nolbris, Enskär, & Hellström, 2007; Sanders, 2004). When a child in a family contracts cancer, all the attention turns to the sick child (Giovanola, 2005; Nolbris & Hellström, 2005; Spinetta, 1981), and the parents' time with the other children decreases (Giovanola, 2005; Iles, 1979). In this situation, the sibling's role changes constantly, during as well as after the different phases of cancer therapy (Nolbris & Hellström, 2005).

To help them understand their situation, siblings of the sick child need someone with whom they can confide (Murray, 1998). A sibling group offers a method for siblings to have this opportunity in a supportive environment.


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