Supporting Siblings of Children with Childhood Cancer

abby and alexa sibling support program

September 26, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:

Having a family member with cancer is tough. There are so many questions and fears, it is difficult for adults to wrap their heads around. To help with the emotional needs of families with brothers and sisters of children undergoing medical treatment, Tackle Kids Cancer, a philanthropic initiative of Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation that raises critical funds for pediatric cancer and patient programs, and Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital developed the Sibling Support Program. 

The program, funded by the generosity of Sandra and Joshua Abrams, Fighting Children’s Cancer Foundation and Tommy Strong Foundation, is managed through the Children’s Hospital’s Child Life department and includes one-on-one and group therapy, including bereavement groups and organized recreational outings. 

When Abby, then 8-years-old, learned her older sister, Ella, had cancer, she was understandably confused and concerned. “In the beginning it was very hard for Abby to understand how Ella got sick,” says Marla, Abby and Ella’s mother. “When the Child Life department suggested Abby participate in the Sibling Support Program, I thought that (the Child Life Specialist) could explain things better than we could.”

At first, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abby participated in virtual group programs called Sib Shops, and met with Alexa Perillo, a Creative Arts Therapist at the Children’s Hospital one-on-one through Zoom.

“Abby and Alexa bonded immediately,” says Marla. “Alexa made her feel special and more involved in Ella’s care. This was especially true when Ella was inpatient.”

Because COVID-19 restrictions have lessened, Abby and Alexa are now able to meet weekly at the hospital. While Abby is with Alexa, Ella spends time with her own Child Life Specialist. According to Marla, these simultaneous appointments help the sisters find a balance.

“Throughout Ella’s treatment, the girls have been jealous of each other in different ways,” says Marla. “The Sibling Support Program allows them to be on a level field. They each have something special of their own.”

Alexa works with children using different art mediums. “Art therapy provides an outlet for siblings to work through and process a variety of feelings associated with their sibling's illness, such as fear, jealousy, anger and guilt,” says Alexa. “Our program helps siblings establish a personal connection to the hospital where they can freely ask questions and connect with other brothers and sisters of pediatric oncology patients.”

As for Abby, she enjoys her time with Alexa. “I love doing art projects with her,” says Abby. “And she always has answers for my questions.”

The sibling support program is a fully philanthropically funded initiative. Sibling relationships can be emotionally powerful and critically important, especially in childhood. When one child undergoes a challenging medical emergency or illness, it has a profound impact on their siblings. We are grateful for the generous funding received to implement the Sibling Support Program to meet the emotional needs of brothers and sisters of children undergoing medical treatment.

With only 4% of the National Cancer Institute's budget being dedicated to childhood cancer, donor impact is crucial for research and support programs. We are beyond grateful for the incredible donations from Sandra and Joshua Abrams, Fighting Children’s Cancer Foundation and Tommy Strong Foundation to develop and implement this program for our youngest patients and their families. As this September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, we thank everyone who supports Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health and Tackle Kids Cancer.

To learn more about how you can support Tackle Kids Cancer, please contact Amy Glazer, executive director, Children’s Health, at amy.glazer@hmhn.org.

Next Steps and Resources

  • The support of our donors means the world to us. Thank you for all that you do in support of our patients and team members - today and every day. MAKE A GIFT to support Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation.
  • Sign up for our Foundation newsletter to receive news right to your inbox. 
Share

Newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest health tips from our expert clinicians delivered weekly to your inbox.

42-Year-old Mother of Three Fights Colorectal Cancer

Tatiana Gonzalez was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at age 39. Comprehensive treatment at Hackensack University Medical Center is helping her achieve remission.

Legacy of Helping Others Lives On Through Cancer Research

The Fishman family has continued Lisa Fishman’s legacy through important philanthropic initiatives in support of cancer research and care.

When a Sore Throat or Tooth Ache Turns out to Be Cancer

Michael Checchi benefitted from robotic surgery when he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer after having severe difficulty with swallowing.

New Jersey Pediatric Surgeons Think Outside the Box to Avoid Colostomy for 13-year-old

While 13-year-old Niam was vacationing in New York, doctors found a cyst fused to his intestinal wall. Innovative surgery allowed him to return home healthy. 

Professional Dancer Faces Cancer With ‘Show Must Go On’ Mentality

Olivia Hutcherson’s doctors are helping her fight stage 4 metastatic breast cancer while maintaining her dancing career.

17-Year-Old Benefits From Tackle Kids Cancer Initiative After Leukemia Treatment

17-year-old Erik Viscito and his family benefit from many corporate partners and donors  that generously donate to Tackle Kids Cancer, a philanthropic initiative of Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation that raises money for pediatric cancer research and patient care programs at Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health Children’s Cancer Institute.

X
We use cookies to improve your site experience. By using this site,
you agree to our Terms & Conditions. Also, please read our Privacy Policy.
Accept All Cookies