A cancer diagnosis can blindside any one of us. But when it’s the woman you love diagnosed with breast cancer, suddenly everything changes. Feelings of being out of control to helplessness are common for men to experience. Of course, you want to help her maintain her sanity and dignity, but what is the best approach to do this?
Understanding breast cancer
Most likely, you know very little about breast cancer. However, now is the time to brush up on this disease helping you understand what’s happening to your loved one.
For American women, breast cancer is the most common cancer they are at risk for, with the exception of skin cancer. Mortality rates of the disease have steadily declined thanks to research, new medications, and treatments. However, breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death among all women.
Cancer begins when cells grow out of control. Women with breast cancer have cells growing out of control in their breasts. The symptoms are different for all women. Typically, a woman discovers a suspicious lump in her breast or a mammogram finds the cancerous tumor. Breast cancer affects women of all ages, young and old. However, aging is a common risk factor for this disease. There are multiple types of breast cancer making it unique for each woman. Therefore, not all women are treated the same due to their particular type of cancer in their breasts.
What you can do to help her during this time
Men like fixing things, including when their loved ones are facing a life-threatening disease. Realize you will feel quite frustrated that you will not be able to “fix” breast cancer. That is her medical oncology team’s job. But, there are plenty of other ways you can be supportive and caring during this time.
Here’s a look at what you can do for your loved one:
- Just listen, giving her space to feel and express her emotions
This is very difficult for men to do, but very necessary nonetheless. Remember, men are ‘fixer-uppers,’ but it’s best to let her talk about feeling angry, scared, or sad. Simply sit and listen without being judgmental or taking her emotions personally. Never make her feel like she has to maintain a positive attitude. This can prevent her from expressing her true feelings. While it may seem counterproductive to let her vent, even when she is screaming at the top of her lungs, suppressing those emotions can jeopardize her psychological adjustment to this new phase of her life. So instead, validate her feelings, let her talk, and listen, listen, listen. This is what women want the most from you during this time.
- Be a team, facing cancer together
Yes, she has breast cancer, and you do not. But the illness is still happening to both of you. Your life has been disrupted and you share many of her same emotions and concerns.
When she knows you are there for her, this can be reassuring and comforting allowing her to reduce stress levels and feel more confident in facing breast cancer head-on. Go with her to medical appointments and take notes. Ask questions but always let her lead the conversation with her doctor. Ask her, “what can I do to help you today?”
- Practice good communication
From the start, express that each of you will be upfront and honest. This allows the freedom of communicating openly enhancing your conversations without shutting them down. For example, if you feel scared or depressed, let her know that. If she is feeling the same, allow her to voice her feelings without fearing your reaction.
Talk about how to let family, friends, and co-workers know of the diagnosis. It can be stressful to tell others but necessary to get the word out. Ask her what you can do to be supportive. Always finds ways each day to make her and your world as normal as possible by doing something you each enjoy.
- Help her manage the logistics of cancer treatment
Having a serious illness can be a logistical nightmare. Scheduling doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, driving to treatments, and making complicated decisions regarding cancer, are not easy adjustments. You both will feel like your lives have been turned upside down.
The best approach is to learn about breast cancer and her doctor’s planned and prescribed treatment regimen. The more you know, the better she will feel that you care giving her hope that you are in this for the long haul. Also, working on scheduling together, enlisting help from family or friends if needed, and taking it a day at a time attitude, often works best.
- Take care of yourself too
Of course, you want her to be pampered and taken care of well. But you also need time to yourself to stay healthy and mentally sane. Keep your same routine since cancer does not have to overtake your lives. Have date nights, watch favorite movies together, keep a sense of humor, and give youself a break from caregiving every few days. Go exercise, read a book, do a favorite hobby, anything allowing you to maintain a sense of normalcy. And be sure to let her do the same too.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.