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Women breast cancer survivors explain what they want to hear from the men in their lives.
Two months ago I created a blog on this site that presented a survey for women. As a man with breast cancer who speaks to audiences comprised primarily of female participants (there just aren’t enough of us guy’s out there talking about this) I wanted to know what women breast cancer survivors would like to discuss with the men in their lives: husbands, sons and friends. I asked three specific questions:
1. Do the men/boys in your life talk to you about your breast cancer? What aren't they asking?
2. What can a male breast cancer survivor offer you in the way of hope, encouragement or support?
3. What do you most need to hear from your husband, boyfriend, son or male partner as you move through your cancer experience?
The response to my inquiry was surprising in the number of women who participated and quite revealing in the depth and honesty of their answers.
I promised at the time to follow up with a summary of the results, in hopes that both men and women breast cancer survivors might benefit from some thoughts and feelings that might not always be expressed. I want to thank all who contributed to this story through CURE Magazine and particularly to Rod Ritchie, Editor at MaleBC.org, who reposted my survey in his newsletter, prompting many responses.
The following is a breakdown of the three questions and some of the replies I received. I identify the responders with initials only and have edited the text, but not the content.
Do the men/boys in your life talk to you about your breast cancer? What aren't they asking?
(1) My son asks me about it quite a bit. More than my daughter. Interestingly, she asks about my health generally, sends notes, cards, visits, all of that, but in terms of really talking about it: no. She doesn't seem to want to know details. As for my husband, he only talks about it when I bring it up. If I ask him how he feels about something he will answer, but otherwise, pretty much not a peep. I don't find him to be unsupportive, just quiet.
(2) My husband and I have learned together and discussed everything medical. He goes to all my appointments with me. We are a team. As far as the mental/emotional side of things, our support group leaders helped us learn that sharing our feelings about cancer stuff promotes intimacy. Trying to protect each other from our fears etc. puts distance between us.
(3) The men are worried. They want to help as much as possible and they want to cure this. They want to know we're going to be okay; that we're going to get through this. What they aren't asking about is how to make decisions. The men, and their ladies, really need information on how to choose between treatments since some treatments work better or worse on some cancers, and when to consider hospice.
(4) After a couple of years of learning about this disease from a women's perspective, and from communicating with BC men, I can see more similarities than differences. Basically, we're all in the same boat with the same alternating fears and hopes, and a desire to help get through it all.
(5) Thanks for the questions. I'm sure we've made our husbands aware, but I hope we all forward it to our sons. I just did.
(6) My two brothers and my Dad occasionally ask how I am doing, especially if the tiredness is obvious. No other male ever mentions it including my 25-year-old son. He just never ever mentions it. Only one man at work has ever mentioned it and that was purely as a science teacher, he wanted to know about the side effects of chemo.
(7) My "man" of five years at the time of diagnosis left one year after surgery and treatment because he "missed the old, fun me." Currently, I have no men in my life, except a super handsome loving four-legged one.
What can a male (breast cancer survivor or not) offer you in the way of hope, encouragement or support?
(1) It is just nice to have conversations with people who understand be they male or female. Especially those who understand the FEAR.
(2) Not sure a man's perspective would help, especially when it comes to losing hair! Being bald is a whole different thing when you are male than when you are female, in my opinion.
(3) The same hope, encouragement or support a woman can offer. We are more alike than we are different. I was in a stage 4 support group for a while, men and women, various kinds of cancer. We shared a similar experience emotionally.
(4) Women and men have similar fears and anxieties; they feel the threat of dying and worry about their families. The treatments and side effects are tough on their bodies and spirits. So yes, male and female patients and survivors can support one another.
(5) Hope, encouragement or support. All three in a positive way, we have to work together to help each other to make changes for us all for the better.
What do you most need to hear from your husband, boyfriend, son or male partner as you move through your cancer experience?
(1) Physical contact from my husband. Humor from my son; when he makes jokes, I know he thinks I will be okay. Actually, I crave that from my husband as well (as it happens my husband is an extremely funny person, so I am lucky in that respect).
(2) What he says: You are beautiful. Those scars and that port don't matter to me. It is possible a cure will be found (probably immunotherapy). Also, what he doesn't say, but I know: We are still us. I would like to say that I hope female BC patients can be aware and inclusive, and support our brothers who had/have BC. I don't want them to feel like outsiders. So I am definitely interested in hearing a male perspective.
(3) That he loves me and will support me, and will help me make decisions, and will stand by me even if he disagrees with my decisions. Which treatments to do and which to skip are also the woman's decision. Whether to reconstruct is ultimately the woman's decision.
(4) More nurturing, love and caring instead of being manly and wanting to go and fight the cancer for us. Sometimes all we need is someone to hold our hand and give us a hug and tell us it will all be okay (even if it isn't), but they are there and will help us to deal with everything and we are not on our own.