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Siblings Deeply Affected By Child's Cancer Death

MONDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Many children who've lost a sister or brother to cancer say they became more mature and more compassionate as a result of the experience, new research finds.

In the study, published online this month in Cancer Nursing, researchers from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, interviewed children from 40 families about how the loss of a sibling impacted them one year later.

Siblings were asked how the death of their brother or sister changed them. The researchers also asked parents to describe how the loss of a sibling affected their remaining children.

The most common personal change reported by the children: greater maturity. The siblings also reported greater compassion and changes in life priorities as a result of their loss. In addition, the siblings said they were motivated by their deceased brother or sister.

Many parents saw things differently, however, and reported negative changes in their surviving children, such as being sad, angry, withdrawn or afraid of enduring another death.

Children also reported changes in their relationships with other kids more often than their parents did, the study showed. Researchers said that parents might not be as aware of how the loss of a sibling affects their child's social relationships.

"There were some differences [in] the kinds of changes parents and children perceived in the siblings," study author Cynthia A. Gerhardt, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said in a hospital news release. Gerhardt is also with Ohio State University College of Medicine. "Our findings suggest that the assessment of sibling grief responses should involve direct communication not only with parents, but also with siblings."

About 60,000 children die each year from cancer in the United States and Canada, while an estimated 480,000 children have experienced the loss of a sibling to cancer over the past decade, the study authors noted.

More information

The U.S. National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides more information on how children cope with sibling death.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Nationwide Children's Hospital, news release, Nov. 16, 2011

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