How 12-year-old Mannix’s life changed when his little sister was diagnosed with cancer
Mannix Dawson was just 12 years old when his little sister Isabella was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. Although Isabella has now been cancer free for nearly three years, she still suffers from many ongoing effects from going through long hospital stays, radiation therapy and chemotherapy as a baby. Like many siblings of children with cancer, the experience has turned Mannix’s life upside down too.
At the time of Isabella’s diagnosis, a major difficulty for Mannix was having to deal with his family being separated. Children are required to have a caregiver with them 24/7 while they are in hospital, which meant their mum, Cindy, was by Isabella’s side almost every single day of the two years that she was on active treatment.
“It was awful when Isabella was diagnosed,” says Mannix, “because it wasn’t just finding out my little sister had cancer, but also realising my mum would have to be away from home.”
As a single parent, Cindy relied heavily on the support of her family to ensure that Mannix would still be cared for during Isabella’s treatment. He stayed with his aunty while his mum was at the hospital with Isabella, but was able to come and stay on the ward with them during the weekends. Due to the immense disruption that Isabella’s diagnosis brought their family, Mannix was forced to grow up really fast.
“It was so tough for him,” says Cindy. “When he should have been playing with his friends like a normal 12-year-old boy, he was learning how to cook so he could make us dinner. He became almost like another adult in the house.”
A hugely important person for Mannix throughout Isabella’s treatment was their Family Support Coordinator, Mary. “Mary was amazing,” says Cindy. “She used to pick Mannix up and take him to get a hot chocolate, take him shopping or just to the Child Cancer Foundation Family Place so he could have a break from the hospital. She even took him on one of the fishing days that our local Connect Group organised. I don’t know what we would have done without her support.”
Child Cancer Foundation also gave Mannix a Personal Development Grant for an iPad so he could keep up with his schoolwork when he was on the ward with Isabella. This became a great outlet for him, as he found that having a mental escape helped him cope with the stress of the situation.
Child Cancer Foundation is committed to supporting siblings like Mannix through their experience of childhood cancer, as despite parents’ best intentions they might feel as if they have to take a back seat while their sibling requires more support. We help families maintain a sense of normality for siblings so they can continue to feel loved, cared for and that they have an important role within the family.
Now 17, Mannix says he likes hanging out with his friends because he can take his mind off his family’s challenges and just be himself. But according to Cindy, he is still coming to terms with how Isabella’s cancer has had an impact on his life. “Mannix keeps most of his feelings to himself, but sometimes they overflow and he gets very emotional. He’s learning to deal with adult emotions, but it takes time.”
As for his role as a big brother, Mannix isn’t letting the ups and downs of the last five years get in the way of reality, saying “Isabella can be pretty annoying” with a cheeky smile. But Cindy says that he’s a great big brother and it’s obvious that he loves her to bits. Sometimes, only a mother can see the truth!
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