When one of your children is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you know your family dynamic will change, but mom of four Catherine Miller could never have imagined the good that would come from such a scary situation.
In 2013, her son Cameron, then 13, was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer (a low-grade glioma astrocytoma) on his brain stem. This meant regular hospital visits for chemotherapy for Cameron. For Cameron’s siblings, it meant lonely days and nights in the hospital waiting room.
“Many people don’t realize that siblings can’t be in hospital rooms with their sick sibling and parents most of the time,” says Cassandra, 17, the oldest of Cameron’s three siblings. He and Cameron have two younger brothers, Cantor and Cade.
“One day, Cassandra came to me crying, and I thought it was because she was worried about Cameron,” Catherine says. “Instead, she told me she was sad because she knew that his condition meant I’d be spending less time with her. It was the one thing I hadn’t thought about, how my focus on Cameron meant spending less time with my other children.”
After meeting siblings of other kids spending lots of time in the hospital, Cassandra turned her lemons into lemonade and founded Siblings Count, a gift bag project to comfort these sidelined siblings. “I felt I had to do something because it was hurtful to feel alone during the hospital stays,” Cassandra says. “I saw other siblings in the waiting rooms, and we had the same feelings, so creating Siblings Count was a way to connect with kids like me, who had a sick sibling.”
Siblings Count kits are intended for kids ages 4-14 and include Play-Doh, a journal, pens, stress balls, a Rubik’s Cube, and Cassandra’s personal story and contact information so that kids can reach out to her.
Cassandra has handed out the kits at Ronald McDonald House, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “There was a big sister in a hospital room and she was taken aback that someone came by to give her something,” says Mattel’s Director of Chase Child Life, Kellye Carroll. “The siblings just get so used to being the second thought, they become selfless.”
As she prepares for college, Cassandra is unsure of her major, but says, “I just want to help people.” And her brother, whose condition is now stable, is proud to see that her mission is already well underway. “I enjoy watching the kids at the hospital with their Siblings Count bags,” Cameron says, “knowing that all started from my sister.”
To contact Siblings Count, visit www.siblingscount.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.