Partners in Survival
When a Woman You Love Has Breast Cancer
by Marc Heyison
“Your mother has breast cancer.” These frightening words were spoken to me in 1992. Today my mom has been cancer-free for almost 22 years. Her courage inspired me to become an advocate in the fight against breast cancer, with a mission to educate and empower men to be effective caregivers when breast cancer strikes a loved one.
I want to offer you some tips on how to support the woman in your life who is going through her own battle with breast cancer, whether she be your mother, sister, or significant other. While I can’t give you the answers to all the questions flooding your mind, I can offer the insights I have gathered from my own experience and from men I’ve spoken to across the country who are in similar situations as you.
Stand by her side.
Each family’s situation is unique. What works for one family may not work for yours. Your family dynamics will dictate your path and how best to navigate it. The first step is making sure your loved one with breast cancer knows that you are by her side. She needs to know that you love her, you love her, and you love her some more. Show her that you are navigating this crisis with her the whole way through. Your support will improve her quality of life and give you both a semblance of control over an uncontrollable situation.
Have conversations with your loved one early on, and continue to have them often to find out how you can support her as her needs change.
Maintain open and honest communication.
A big part of supporting the woman in your life who is battling breast cancer is being open and honest with her. This allows you to connect with her and reinforces that you are there for her. The two of you are partners in the breast cancer journey. And any good partnership requires effective communication. I encourage you to start sharing your feelings with one another, even your fears, which are normal and valid. Have conversations with your loved one early on, and continue to have them often to find out how you can support her as her needs change. Ask her how you’re doing as a caregiver, and ask what else you can do to provide support. Don’t be afraid to let her know your needs, too, in an open, honest, and appropriate manner. After all, you can’t help each other if you don’t know what the other needs.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
While you’re caring for your loved one with breast cancer, be sure to continue taking care of your own physical and emotional health. Exercise, eat right, and above all, find a healthy way to express your emotions. Just as you would go to the doctor to fix a broken bone, it’s important to reach out to talk to someone if you’re struggling emotionally. This is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Guys, I know that this is scary stuff. But committing to do whatever it takes to support the woman you love through breast cancer reinforces that you are in this together and you’re not going anywhere.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Marc Heyison is the president and founder of the nonprofit organization Men Against Breast Cancer (MenAgainstBreastCancer.org, twitter.com/MABCcares) and author of It’s Not Rocket Science: A Guy’s Blueprint to Caregiving.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2014.