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When Your Wife is Diagnosed With Breast Cancer, Be A Man
To Breast Cancer Husbands
In this article, I share my suggestions for men who are the primary supporters of women with breast cancer. My thoughts and observations are based on being with my wife for ten years as she fought against this disease. Here are three very practical and proven suggestions that can quickly turn a man into an effective supporter for the woman in his life who is battling breast cancer.
Sandy and Me on a Great Day
My Experience as a Breast Cancer Husband
My wife, Sandy, and I were married for twenty-four years before breast cancer took her life on April 1, 2008. I want to share three lessons I have learned through this process which are especially appropriate for men whose wives or significant others have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or are already receiving breast cancer treatment.
- Focus on your wife.
- Focus on life.
- Focus on yourself.
Sandy, the Teacher
Focus on Your Wife
When she has oncologist appointments and treatments, be there. At "routine" Doctor appointments, she is hearing good news and bad news and about changes in breast cancer therapy. This Oncologist is one of the most important people in her life. I found that it was vital to our relationship that I get to know the Doctor as well. It was one way I could support her emotionally. But attending these appointments had a practical purpose as well. Together we were able to better understand what was discussed as we talked about it later.
Attending breast cancer treatments, whether for radiation or chemotherapy, was pure emotional support. If she was having chemotherapy, I could hold her hand, read to her or simply talk to her. My wife had over one hundred radiation therapy treatments. It was helpful for me to keep in mind that during the treatment, everyone had to leave the radiation room. She was alone while the cancer cells and her body were being bombarded. It was an emotional support for her to have me waiting outside when the treatment was over.
Sandy, Lover of Nature
Focus on Your Wife (Continued)
Some men have affairs and even divorce their wives while they are in treatment. This is the ultimate expression of selfishness and rejection. After struggling in this area, I found that embracing my wife and cancer relieved me of any desire to escape. This is an area in which I genuinely struggled for a time, but I was able to turn away from it in order to truly be my wife's partner. I spent several years learning how to cope with the guilt and shame of my behavior. Men, it is not worth it.
Viewing pornography is another way that some men distract themselves from the monotony and pain of life with breast cancer. This is a matter of faithfulness as well. Once again, after an initial struggle, I learned that focusing on my wife as a woman, provided each of us with a sense of happiness and satisfaction that nothing else could provide. There were times in treatment when a sexual relationship was out of the question. At those times, the intimacy of flowers, a meal prepared by me, or an evening out, communicated to her that she was still special.
Sandy, Kayaking With the Humpback Whales
Focus on Life
Focus on living, not dying. The term metastatic breast cancer became part of our vocabulary in 2000 when Sandy's cancer metastasized to her bones. The Doctor told us that at that point her cancer had become incurable. We had a choice. We could spend our time lamenting the prognosis or we could enjoy life. We sat down with our sons and discussed as a family how we wanted to spend the time that we would have together. Unanimously we chose to travel. We knew that financially it would mean not having a lot of other "things". Over the next eight years, we visited many places and had many experiences which, for my sons and me, will always be our favorite memories.
Help your wife to continue living a normal, productive life for as long as she is able and desires it. My wife was an eighth-grade science teacher. From the time of her original diagnosis of breast cancer in 1998, she continued teaching until 2007. This was her choice which I supported. As a result of her hard work, she was an inspiration to her students. At her funeral, the building was packed with over seven hundred people, many of whom were current and former students. Helping our wives to maintain normal, productive lives can yield joyful results for them and those whose lives they touch.
Sandy, Happy and Fulfilled in Spite of Cancer
Focus on Yourself
Sacrifice and self-denial are appropriate in some ways for men whose wives are fighting cancer, but there are aspects of our lives which should not be neglected. I found it helpful to have someone I could talk to when I was emotionally worn out. There are support groups, men's groups in Churches, professional counselors, pastors and friends in general with whom we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings. The biggest mistake I made was to fall into the mindset that I didn't need any support. That was the fast way to hurting myself, and diminishing the primary source of support for my wife.
I found that one important way of relieving stress was to get plenty of physical activity. I was a runner before my wife's diagnosis and continued running after that. I did have to be careful not to be obsessed with it, though. One point of physical fitness is to make me a stronger person for those I love.
I developed a drinking problem during my wife's life with cancer and found help for myself in Alcoholics Anonymous. In this way, I was able to regain my appropriate place in the lives of my wife and sons. Men, there is help available in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The jury is still out on whether a positive support system will help breast cancer patients live longer. But, research and common sense do tell us that a positive support system will help cancer patients live happier, fuller lives, cope better with aggressive treatments and be more compliant with treatments.
I consider it a privilege to have stood by my wife's side through her fight. I had periods of absolute failure and times when I was who I needed to be for her. I hope these suggestions have been helpful and serve someone as a pathway to experiencing a full, meaningful life with their loved one now and a life without regrets in the future.