Having a seriously ill sister has taught me a lot

This National Sibling’s Day, Petra, a sibling we support, shares her experiences having a seriously ill sister and how this impacted her growing up.

Hi, my name is Petra. I am 14 years old and I live in Surrey with my mum, dad, brother and sister. My sister’s name is Rowan.

When Rowan was three, she was diagnosed with NF (Neuro Fibromatosis). NF is a condition where you can get tumours around your body. We found out in 2009 that Rowan had an optic glioma (a brain tumour in her optic nerve) which means that she can’t see very well and she had to have chemotherapy. Rowan had to go up to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London every week to get her chemotherapy. This put a massive strain on the family and was very worrying. I was five years old and I remember finding it very scary.

How does having a sister with a serious illness impact you?

In 2009 when Rowan was having chemo therapy I was five years old and found it very unsettling. My parents were often in hospital with Rowan. I had to have people coming to look after myself and my brother and I often had to stay at friends’ houses. I remember feeling slightly jealous of Rowan having all the attention and getting presents from everyone.

How did you feel about it?

It was very hard not being able to do things that other families could do like going on trips. Rowan was often too unwell to go places and that made me feel very sad. Sometimes, friends didn’t understand and were uncomfortable around Rowan and people would look at Rowan when we were out in town and that made me feel upset. But now that I am older, I realise that they didn’t understand Rowan’s condition and it was not because they were horrible.

What did you miss out on?

When Rowan was on chemo I missed out on my mum helping me with my school work as she was in hospital with Rowan. I started doing badly at school as I didn’t have my parents around to help me.

What was difficult about it?

I really missed Rowan when she was in hospital. Rowan and I were at the same school I would get upset when I didn’t see Rowan in the playground.

What have you learned?

Having a sister with a serious illness has taught me how to cope in difficult situations. I also think that it has taught me how to be patient when things don’t go the way you planned them to. Also, how to be resourceful. In 2015 Rowan had a foot operation and had to be in bed for two months. I came up with ways to entertain her when she couldn’t do things.

What advice would you give to other siblings?

I would tell other siblings that it is ok to feel upset about your sibling’s illness. You should never feel ashamed of yourself for wanting to get out of the house and be away from them for a bit. Also, distracting yourself is a great coping strategy. Things like reading, and watching films. And finally, if your friends are uncomfortable around your sibling the most likely reason they’re behaving that way is because they don’t understand. So, talk to them about it. Explain what your sibling can and can’t do and if you’re relaxed they will be relaxed too.