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Mandy L. Weil

Art Therapy with Siblings of Pediatric Cancer Patients: Wheat in the Dark

Mandy Weil, “Untitled,” 2004.  Mixed Media, (on three canvases).  5”x3”x3/4”

       The field of pediatric oncology includes much more than purely medical concerns. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, every individual in the family unit is forced to adapt and cope with the effects of the illness. Although the patient is the one who has to endure the physical effects of both the cancer and the treatment medications, every other family member’s life also becomes unsettled in a different but also challenging manner. In particular, the effects on siblings are often intense and long lasting. Their reactions may manifest as emotional, spiritual, psychological, and even physical struggles. Siblings may experience many new and unfamiliar emotions, ranging from fear to resentment to guilt. Not only must siblings adjust to the reality of their brother’s or sister’s diagnosis of childhood cancer, but they also must learn how to cope with new emotions that may overwhelm them.

            My personal experiences with the life-threatening illnesses of family members led me to an interest in working in pediatric oncology. Through my experience as an intern at Children’s Memorial Hospital, I became acutely aware of the complex nature of medical illness in children and the stress it places on the entire family. I wondered if the intense focus placed on the ill child had negative repercussions for the healthy siblings. What were the reactions of the healthy siblings to their ill brother or sister? How did this shift in the family dynamic affect relationships with parents, guardians, or other healthy family members? Who and what helped the siblings cope with this new family situation and life-changing experience?

         This thesis examines the specific concerns of children who have a sibling living with cancer. In order to better understand the experiences and needs of the healthy siblings, I conducted video interviews with them. I interviewed children, adolescents, and adults who had, at some point in their lives, been the brother or sister of a child with cancer. I also examined, through careful documentation of my work with the sibling of a cancer patient at Children’s Memorial Hospital, how art therapy might effectively address the siblings’ concerns. An analysis of the video interviews, a survey of relevant literature, and my own observations from the clinical work formed the basis for my understanding of the needs of children whose siblings have cancer. From this understanding I developed a prototype for an art therapy kit to be used to help address the concerns and needs of the healthy siblings.


         Mandy L. Weil received a BA in Fine Arts from Lafayette College. While at SAIC, she worked as an intern at the Open Studio Project, a not-for-profit, community-based creative arts center. She also worked with children diagnosed with cancer, as well as their siblings, in the Hematology/Oncology Division at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.


Thesis Advisor: Catherine Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Sarah Laing





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