I am one of three children - the middle child - sandwiched between an older brother and a younger sister. I am enormously grateful for my siblings, especially as I get older. I am increasingly aware of how they have affected the person that I am and the way I see the world. Each of us occupy a different region in the country - one in the West, one in the South and one in the East. And yet, these fifty states seem not so widespread to me when I know that those two - the original and first humans who I could call "my people" - are walking the same Earth, breathing the same air and sleeping under the same moon as am I each night. There are times, fortunately or unfortunately, that I feel like my brother and sister are about as closely wrapped around me as my own skin. I believe in some therapy sessions, this might be referred to as rampantly dangerous codependency. :-)
In an article from last year titled "The Gift of Siblings", Frank Bruni wrote, "My siblings have certainly seen me at my worst, and I’ve seen them at theirs. No one has bolted. It’s as if we signed some contract long ago, before we were even aware of what we were getting into, and over time gained the wisdom to see that we hadn’t been duped. We’d been graced: with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn’t stint on applause."
In the last year of volunteering at Kyle's Kamp, I have met not only children with cancer, but the brothers and sisters who fight alongside them. They are younger and older, boys and girls. Grant, Robert and Maddie. Troy, Jake, Ian and Abby. Ceci, Matthew and Cole. All healthy, vibrant children. All who desperately need our prayers and help. In the midst of those meetings, I often think of the unique gift of my own siblings, the special way that our hearts are joined and the comfort I feel at the assumption that we will grow old, holding our family together even as generations come and go behind and in front of us.
The Rupp Kids: Gavin, Ian and Abby
The brothers and sisters of children fighting cancer cannot count on that comforting assumption. In addition to the obvious distress that a sibling will feel if the patient dies, these children suffer significantly during the diagnosis and treatment of the cancer patient.
Kyle catches a nap on his big brother, Robert
The emotions hurtling through a sibling's heart run the gamut from fear, anxiety and sadness to guilt, anger and jealousy. A sister might fear for her sibling, but in many cases will worry that mom or dad or even she, herself, will "catch" cancer. A brother might feel envy that his sibling receives special attention, gifts and individual time with his parents, all the while feeling guilt for these very reasonable and common thoughts. Many children might feel they have lost their own identities - always being associated as the "sister of . . ." or "the brother of . . ." When the focus of an entire family and in many cases of an entire community shifts to literally saving the life of one of its members, small children feel conflicting emotions that the most mature of adults could not be expected to navigate without help.
For these reasons, Sandy and Chris Rupp, parents of Gavin Rupp who was lost to brain cancer in 2013, have designated that funds raised at the Kyle's Kamp Gavin Rupp Open golf tournament will honor Gavin's brother and sister, Ian and Abby, and the many other siblings of cancer patients in the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia area. These funds have helped Kyle's Kamp to support existing programs and create new ones to meet the needs of the brave and dedicated brothers and sisters who have found themselves partners in a battle in which no veteran warrior would easily engage.
The Rupps with patients, siblings and golfers at the 2014 Gavin Rupp Open
Through Kyle's Kamp's SibStrong Smiles program sisters and brothers of these patients are finding support in many ways.
Dr. Amanda Thompson, of Children's National Medical Center says, "Because of Sibstrong, we have been able to create resource libraries at both the downtown and Northern VA campuses focused on siblings of children with cancer. We have a monthly ‘Sibling Spotlight’ that features a special boy or girl, nominated by their parent or their brother or sister in treatment, who deserves to be recognized as a hero; that individual gets their picture and story posted in clinic and is rewarded with a certificate and Target gift card. We have been able to create sibling comfort care bags for siblings who are grieving the loss of their brother and sister. And we have launched the SibStrong Smiles Wish Program, where nominated siblings receive a small wish that recognizes that they are part of the cancer journey, that they are not forgotten, and that they are special too. We’ve conducted two wishes to date—one involved a horseback riding lesson and meeting with Elsa from Frozen and the other involved a dance lesson and karaoke machine. This is a unique program, made possible by the Gavin Rupp Open, that has been invaluable to our patients and families."
Sweet Super Sibs Miss G. and Miss I. take pony rides together
Sisters and brothers of sick children just wish to turn the clock back and return to life before cancer took over the family. Kyle's Kamp works hard to fund research so that scientists and doctors can create medicines and therapies that might one day help families go back to their life before cancer quickly. We all pray that siblings might grow old together, introducing brothers-in-law and sisters-in law, nephews and nieces into an evergrowing family. We, unfortunately, cannot grant that wish just yet. Until then, we will continue to be dedicated to every member of the family in its journey against cancer.
Ceci visits her little sister, Sabrina
These days, we at Kyle's Kamp are praying mightily for a super strong sibling named Troy who is rarely away from the side of his brother, Mathias, as he fights osteosarcoma. It is in seeing Troy's love for his brother that I am watching how this disease robs more than just the patient of a childhood. Cancer takes the light and ease out of the world for many healthy children. SibStrong Smiles aims to help put some of that light back into their hearts, if even for just a bit. It is our mission that this will renew some of their hope, some of their joy and some of their strength so that they can go back home and pour all of those good things into their suffering sibling. Troy and children like him are doing a mighty work. A mighty work they did not choose, they did not plan. A mighty work which they cannot do alone. Please pray for Troy as he falls in step to march alongside in battle with his first and best friend.
Mathias provides some homework help to Troy
If you would like to know more about how to help sisters and brothers of cancer patients by assistance with granting wishes or in other ways, please contact Tracy Mawyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenn Skinner is a Christian and a Texan(Texas Longhorn to be specific!) living in beautiful Virginia with her very patient and funny husband and her 3 very impatient and funny little boys/ball players, She joined the fight against Pediatric Cancer with Kyle's Kamp in 2013. She also writes about just about everything and nothing and the ridiculously abundant life God has gifted her at her blog, The View From Behind Home Plate