From the Home Page, this is the map of Natalie's heart...
Sibling of the Month - March 2019
Natalie with Nathan during the holidays.

Friends of Karen would like to introduce you to Natalie, age 17, our March Sibling of the Month.  Natalie wanted to share her story to help other siblings who might be experiencing some of the same worries and challenges she has faced since her little brother Nathan, age 3, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in September.  When Nathan had to go away for radiation treatment it meant that Natalie was separated from her mom and Nathan for an extended period of time.  This made things especially difficult.  In the interview below Natalie speaks about how she got through that time and offers some advice to other siblings.

Now meet Natalie! (Interviewed by Friends of Karen Sibling Specialist Melinda)

Can you tell us something special about you? 

I love writing.  When I started writing I never wanted to stop.  It would go on and on.  I enjoy the action of writing especially.  I find it very soothing.

You shared with me that you keep a journal.  Can you talk about how you use your journal?

I write about how I feel in the moment, that day.  I follow up with what I am grateful for.  No matter what there is always something to be grateful for. It helps to make you take a step back and think about yourself and how to make things better for the next day.

Will you talk a little bit about your relationship with Nathan?

Nathan came into my life late.  It had been just me for so long.  I was the only child and I was upset at first, but then I saw him and I fell in love with him. It's a love I never felt and it came out of nowhere.  I suffer from anxiety, but when I would see him it would just melt away. When he got diagnosed it felt unreal.  I didn't believe something like this could happen so close to me. He was diagnosed in September and I remember everything about it.  I remember the first eye doctor appointment right up to the diagnosis rhabdomyosarcoma.

As part of his treatment Nathan needed to receive radiation at a hospital a good distance away from home.  He and mom had to go and stay for 8 weeks.  Can you talk about what that time was like?

It took a lot to try not to cry and to not be sad because I was in a really depressed state of mind.  We are a unit and it was so hard to separate.  It was really difficult to go through and it was especially tough on my mom and all new for Nathan.  He had to be put under general anesthetic every day for the radiation and it was really scary.

I know you had to miss school to go visit a few times and the rest of the time you stayed home with family/friends.  What if anything helped you get through it?

I dealt with it by filling in the void with friends and did a lot more with people to distract myself.  I focused on school and my teachers really had my back.  I had a good support system with teachers, friends, and family.  They were all empathetic.  Even if they didn't know exactly what it was like for me to go through this they really tried to understand and put in an effort.  They made it easy to talk about and that meant a lot. 

I know that you and mom worked really hard to make sure that support was in place before she left!  It seems that planning was really helpful.

My mom is amazing.  There is no one like her.  She's unbelievable.  She still tries to help me find things to make me happy even with all she is going through with Nathan. Recently, she made a point of making sure she had someone to watch Nathan (even though she never leaves him) so that she could come with me to get a prom dress.  It was such a special moment we got to share and it meant so much to both of us. We really are trying to find a balance between always having Nathan with us and for us to find small amounts of time together just the two of us.

That's amazing and really shows how much you and your mom support each other.  I am so glad you got to share that experience.  I am sure other parents and sibs reading this will see just how important it is to find special time together.  Can you also share with us some tools you have used to help "quiet the anxiety?"

My favorite is the 5 senses exercise I use.  When I get really anxious I go through my five senses just noticing the things I can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.  It really keeps me in the moment and grounded. It reminds you that you are ok. I also use drawing and writing.  They are soothing and relieving even if you think you are a "bad artist" it doesn't matter, just get everything out on a piece of paper.  And finally, music…sad or happy it helps me express a lot through the music.

Do you have any advice you would like to offer other sibs?

It's ok to talk to your parents during this time.  They are going through a lot, but you are too.  Step up and talk about issues and feelings.  Keeping it inside isn't going to help at all.  Friends don't really get it like your parents because they aren't experiencing the same things. Be open with how you feel and know it's okay to reach out for help from others too.  Everyone has a different situation they are facing.  You shouldn't feel guilty or ashamed of how you feel.  At first I was afraid to ask my mom to go out with friends because I felt I always needed to be there for her and Nathan, but I realized I can't just put my life on hold.  My mom really gets this too and always encourages me to go out and do things that make me happy.  So don't hold yourself back.  Try to maintain some of your "normal" from before.

Thank you so much for your wisdom and openness Natalie!  It is going to help so many sibs to read your story.  That is amazing advice.  Many sibs might be feeling guilty about "living life" while their sibling is sick, but it is a good reminder that siblings are important too and that their feelings and concerns matter!  Sibs, you might want to read this interview with your caregivers and find ways to spend some special time together.  And remember to come back next month to meet our next Friends of Karen Sibling of the Month!