The mission of the Dana-Farber Sibling Program to provide a space to:
- Connect siblings to one another
- Provide tools and resources for parents and schools to support sibling adjustment and understanding
A diagnosis of childhood cancer or blood disorder impacts the entire family. Their world is turned upside down from multiple doctor visits, frequent hospitalizations, and significant changes to normal routines.
Siblings of pediatric patients with serious medical illnesses face these challenges, as well. Addressing the needs of healthy siblings is an essential part of delivering total family care.
Dana-Farber's Sibling Program provides support to siblings and their families. Our unique program is committed to further exploring the impact of a cancer or blood disorder diagnosis on siblings, and to creating a better experience for all involved throughout the cancer journey.
Groups are open to siblings of patients at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. These sessions offer siblings a place to come together to connect, have fun, and make friends. While we aren’t able to meet in person right now, we still connect from home via Zoom! During each group meeting, we do a fun activity together as a way to hang out virtually and meet one another.
Currently, we offer two groups:
- Just for Sibs (siblings ages 5-10)
- Just for Sibs: Tweens and Teens (siblings ages 11-19)
Supporting Siblings at Home
Parent Consultation and Resources
The Sibling Program provides parents with access to reading materials. These books and articles focus on how to best support siblings and to identify those in need of more support. Materials are available for different age groups.
American Cancer Society: Helping Siblings of Children Diagnosed With Cancer
National Cancer Institute: When Your Brother or Sister Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens
CancerCare: Helping the Siblings of a Child With Cancer
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: SuperSibs Parent Toolkit
American Cancer Society: When Your Brother or Sister Has Cancer
Helpful Websites for Siblings of Patients
Dana-Farber's Parents Together
School-age and teen sibling backpacks are available for all siblings ages 5 and up. These unique bags contain age-appropriate books to provide understanding and support, as well as therapeutic activity materials. Reading materials include sibling journals and children’s books centered around changes to home life, family, and everything that goes along with having a sibling who has been diagnosed with a serious medical illness. These carefully selected resources are a wonderful way of providing information, encouraging children to ask questions, and helping them to better cope with this new adjustment.
Sibling "BEADS" Program
The Sibling Program collaborated with our Blum Pediatric Resource Room to adapt its popular BEADS program (Beading Each a Different Story), which is designed to help boost the spirits of pediatric cancer and blood disorder patients by providing them with high-quality, custom-made glass and ceramic beads that represent milestones throughout the illness experience. Similarly, Sibling BEADS is designed to represent the unique experience of having a brother or sister with a serious medical illness. Custom-made beads represent milestones, such as celebrating time with family for occasions like Make A Wish; recognizing sacrifices, such as time spent away from parents/caregivers; and encouraging participation in sibling support programs.
Young Adult Sibling Resources
Teen and young adult siblings have unique needs for support. The organizations below provide access to reading materials, opportunities for social connection, and other programming specifically for this age group. For additional young adult resources, please visit Dana-Farber's Young Adult Program.
- Elephants & Tea: National non-profit media organization founded by the sibling of an AYA survivor, with the mission of connecting young adults and their caregivers via blogs, writing, virtual programming, and other forms of self-expression.
- Cactus Cancer Society: National non-profit organization that offers a variety of wellness/supportive programs and resources solely for young adults and their caregivers. Examples of programs include a creative writing workshop, book club, DIY crafts, and opportunities to connect with others virtually.
- Stupid Cancer: National non-profit organization that offers both resources and programming for everyone affected by AYA cancer, including siblings and other caregivers.
- Teenage Cancer Trust: “My brother or sister has cancer” provides a realistic overview of the changes to anticipate when a brother or sister is undergoing treatment.
Supporting Siblings at School
Supporting siblings in their school environments is an essential part of sibling care. Schools can be a place where siblings can experience normalcy. However, dealing with academic pressure, peer relationships, and shifting emotions in addition to a diagnosis in the family makes school a stressful environment for many. The Sibling Program is able to offer tailored information to schools about how best to support siblings, and to identify those in need of more support.
To learn more about the Sibling Program, or to access any of the above supports, please fill out our online registration form.
Contact the Sibling Program
Larissa Hewitt, MSW, LICSW, Sibling Program Director
Morgan Walker, MS, CCLS, Sibling Program Specialist