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. When Abby, then 8 years old, learned her older sister had cancer she was understandably confused and concerned.
“In the beginning it was very hard for Abby to understand how Ella got sick,” said 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, Abby participated in virtual group programs called Sib Shops, and met with Alexa Perillo, a Creative Arts Therapist at Hackensack Meridian Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital one-on-one through Zoom.
“Abby and Alexa bonded immediately,” said Marla. “Alexa made her feel special and more involved in Ella’s care. This was especially true when Ella was inpatient.”
As Covid restrictions lessened, Abby and Alexa now meet weekly at the hospital. At the same time, Ella spends time with her own Child Life Specialist. These simultaneous appointments help the sisters find a balance, Marla explained. “Throughout Ella’s treatment the girls have been jealous of each other in different ways. The Sibling Support Program allows them to be on a level field. They each have something special of their own.”
Alexa explained that she 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. 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,” said 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,” said Ellen Goldring, Manager, Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy.