Husbands: 10 Ways to be there when your wife has breast cancer
Breast cancer is actually a life as well as relationship threatening trauma. Peter J. Flierl, MSW, offers insights as well as common sense for husbands of patients with breast cancer
When we marry the man or woman of our dreams, our soul mate as well as best friend, we expect to be together for a lifetime despite the odds against of which with 6 of 10 marriages today ending in divorce. We truly believe of which we will be together "for richer, for poorer, in sickness as well as in health, 'til death us do part." as well as then life intrudes: becoming a couple, learning to balance needs, the joy as well as awesome responsibility of becoming as well as being parents, managing carers as well as handling money.
If a marriage is actually sound, of which can weather any storm, survive virtually any trauma. If the relationship is actually not on solid ground, a trauma, almost any trauma or stress, can lead to its demise. of which may account for the fact of which nearly seven in ten marriages touched by breast cancer do not survive.
There is actually no magic bullet, no panacea or formula, for survival as well as indeed stimulating menstruate of or in part due to facing breast cancer diagnosis as well as treatment, as well as subsequent life together.
God of which is actually said gives us challenges to build character, so you as a husband as well as the two of you as a couple have a great opportunity to build character, to create a lifetime love story. My bride of 28 years, Shirley, is actually a 22-year survivor of breast cancer. However, of which does not define her. She is actually also a mother, a businesswoman, an educator, a lover, a community volunteer, as well as my lifetime partner. She was treated at age 37 for an aggressive, Stage 3 tumor of which had an extensive lymph node involvement. She is actually alive as well as well, still sexy with just one breast, as well as is actually an inspiration to some other women facing This specific disease, particularly young women.
Following are suggestions to some other husbands on how to be there for your wife, how to help her become as well as remain a survivor.
1. Tell her you love her.
In a marriage or any intimate relationship, silence is actually not golden. The strong silent type need not apply for the position of husband, lover, best friend, confidante as well as supporter of a woman with breast cancer. Your bride, your wife, needs as well as wants to hear through you. Actions may speak louder than words, as well as you may take all the right actions, nevertheless speaking words bring comfort, reassurance as well as knowledge of your inner feelings. She can not read your mind. Being there for her is actually more than physical or economic security. Words have meaning. as well as the three most important words inside the English language at This specific time, at This specific moment, when together you are facing her mortality, are: "I love you."
The late Louise Crisafi, a saint here on Earth who always possesses herself for others in need, taught me This specific lesson on the Friday my wife, Shirley Ann, had her biopsy as well as was diagnosed. Shirley had opted for a two-step process for diagnosis one day as well as treatment, ie, surgical removal of her right breast, a mastectomy, on a second day. This specific meant we knew on Friday of which she would likely have a mastectomy on Monday, a weekend together, scared, anxious, frightened. Shirley was confronting her death as well as the imminent loss of a part of her womanhood. I was clueless, at a loss, overwhelmed as well as scared. I did not know what to do, how to act or what to say.
Louise was an American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery volunteer devoted to helping some other women face breast cancer diagnosis as well as treatment. She was a not bad friend. When I asked her what to do feeling as helpless as well as overwhelmed as I was, she said simply: "Tell her you love her." I was off to the races. I spent of which weekend saying those three magic, powerful words over as well as over, as frequently as possible, perhaps more than I had done in weeks, months or years previously.
A year or so later on a television talk show featuring three women who had had breast cancer, Shirley reminisced about how verbal I had become of which fateful weekend. Those words welcomed comfort as well as made a difference. Remember to say: "I love you." of which works. as well as I wish I am as verbal as well as loving today as I was inside the middle of crisis.
2. Say "Yes"
We all know the joke about Moses as well as the tribes of Israel wandering for 40 years inside the desert after their miraculous escape through bondage in Egypt. of which took 40 long years to reach the land of milk as well as honey, the Promised Land. as well as why, why did of which take so long? Moses was a man. He refused to ask for directions. Ten Commandments, maybe; asking for help, never.
If you're married or have dated a man for any length of time, you've spent time in a car lost. You suggest, sometimes timidly as well as quietly, of which of which might be a not bad idea to stop as well as ask for directions. He is actually offended. He, after all, is actually a man. He includes a not bad, no, a great sense of direction. of which will become an appealing to you, a mere woman with no sense of direction, momentarily. The moments tick by. He is actually becoming exasperated as well as sitting the gas. Finally, in disgust, he pulls into a gas station as well as requests for help. of which pains him to do so.
Louise added another lesson when I was asking what to do knowing of which Shirley as well as I were facing her cancer together, a cancer of which we seemed to have wrong wish of beat-ing. Her advice was powerful as well as insightful. When someone, anyone, asks if they can do anything to help, just say "Yes." Friends, family, neighbors, colleges as well as others want to be there for you as well as for themselves.
I know, I know. You're a man as well as never ask for help, not even simple directions. Understand of which the people asking to help need your "Yes" as much as you. of which gives them some sense of being able to do something positive about This specific insidious disease of which seems beyond their control.
Shirley as well as I were blessed. We did not have to cook a meal for 3-4 months following her surgery thanks to the chicken dishes, casseroles, lasagnas as well as some other assorted goodies constantly flowing through our front door. Needing a brief childcare stint for our daughter, Alison, of which was there. Thank you, Greenwich. Thank you in particular First Congregational Church in Old Greenwich. Thank you special friends, particularly Betsy, who taught me I could get through anything, even This specific. You are a compassionate community. You are a healing church. You are true friends. Your love, prayers as well as support made a difference for all three of us in our recovery.
Ask for help. Say "yes" when of which's offered. You'll be better for of which.
3. Humor Heals
Norman Cousins taught the country This specific lesson many years ago as well as we are often reminded of This specific truth by Loretta Laroche as well as others. We know of which the act of laughing is actually itself healing. of which makes us feel better as well as helps us get better. of which is actually very easy to take ourselves as well as our practitioners much too seriously.
Close friends have experienced our occasional over-the-top, out of control laughing, true guffaws. Can anything feel better? You can not laugh while feeling sorry for yourself. Seeing the humor in any situation brings relief as well as Discharge. Did you hear about the drunk who got a "speeding" ticket after passing out at the wheel of his car? Tragedy, yes. Being able to laugh at the incident in hindsight brings understanding as well as relief.
Our favorite apocryphal joke is actually about hitting a pig, reporting the accident anonymously as well as getting a ticket inside the mail for $ 500. as well as how they found us, you ask, "the pig squealed."
Shirley set the stage for our approach to her treatment for breast cancer, which included humor as well as lots of of which. Shirley had met Linda McWhorter, her surgeon's wife, about two weeks before her diagnosis as well as surgery. On the way in to the operating room for her mastectomy, lying on a gurney in a local community hospital, she looked up as well as said: "Hey, Phil, you bought to charge me half cost." I'm pretty tiny. " Courage, strength, fortitude.
A year later, Shirley told the hospital's President & CEO of which she was being over charged for her mammogram, of which she should get a 50% discount. After all, with one remaining breast, they only had to take an individual x-ray image, not two. What's fair is actually fair. She left him speechless. of which just made sense to me.
as well as there was her relationship with her oncologist, Dick Hollister, as well as his incredible staff. Do you realize of which over 95% of cancer treatment takes place in doctors' private office, not in hospitals. If you choose to practice in oncology, you know through the get go of which at least 50% of your patients will die. Yet Dick as well as his staff always provided wish, comfort, as well as, best of all, laughter as well as humor.
Dick had made the choice to become a doctor as well as treat patients with cancer at age 13 according to his mother, at age 11 according to him. He was the perfect match for Shirley, who turned him bright red (fairly easily given his red-head's freckled complexion), when she whipped out her temporary breast prosthesis during his first visit to her hospital room. He was speechless. He knew he had a live one, despite the poor prognosis. Shirley was an interesting as well as challenging case for a brand-new oncologist in his first few years of practice. Jokes were a staple in his office during the course of our year of treatment.
Humor is actually healing to body, mind, as well as spirit.
4. I love you, not your breasts
Despite our nation's growing obesity, we are a breast as well as body image fixated society, through Betty Grable pinups in World War II, Marilyn Monroe as well as Jane Mansfield inside the 1950's as well as 1960's to Salma Hayek, Paris Hilton as well as Pamela Anderson today. Men talk about being "leg men" or "breast men" with bravado as well as sophomoric stupidity, as if large breasts or great legs have anything to do with being a woman, a lifetime companion, as well as a long-term, intimate lover.
currently, do not get me wrong. I love to look at as well as admire beautiful women through the gorgeous 76-year-old former design taking my smoking cessation class in 1982 to the stars on screen as well as women around me today. However, of which is actually my bride, my lover, as well as my lifetime partner who is actually my sexual as well as sensual interest today. Your bride, your lover, your wife needs to know of which you love who she is actually, not what type of body she has or the size of her breasts.
Shirley is actually as beautiful as well as sexy today as she was on our first date, if not more so. Our love doing then as well as today was not as well as is actually not hampered by her having one breast instead of two. Rather, of which enriches our intimacy. When we make love, she completes me, makes me whole as well as alive. God created a matching set of which fits together nicely. Your bride needs reassurance inside the face of an assault on her femininity as well as sense of womanhood. She needs to know what you say as well as what you do of which This specific set of circumstances is actually not the end of your sex life, nevertheless rather a brand-new, sometimes frightening, as well as exciting sex life with heightened sensitivity as well as caring.
5. Go to her appointments
Go to the multitude of appointments with your wife, your partner, as much as you can, holding her hand literally as well as figuratively. I had the luxury as well as blessing of relative independence in my job as the CEO of a community health as well as wellness center. I built my professional as well as community calendar around Shirley's treatment schedule. I went with Shirley to virtually every physician visit, every chemotherapy appointment. I felt a bit guilty about sitting inside the waiting room, not going into the exam room with her for the actual treatments. Perhaps a bit of a wimp or squeamish, nevertheless I was with her in mind, body as well as spirit every step of the way. If of which were possible, I would likely have taken of which for her, as well as traded places with her.
of which is actually not what you do when you accompany her to treatment, nevertheless rather the act itself of which speaks volumes to her. of which also gives you some sense of empowerment. You are more than a helpless spectator cursing the damaged disease. You have joined the battle. You are helping wrest control through the cancer along with your wife, your family as well as friends, your treatment team as well as all of the support system around you.
There is actually also a practical side. Hearing a diagnosis of cancer overwhelms the senses. Doctors try to help you understand, nevertheless their daily jargon, the language of medicine, might as well be classical Greek or Latin. With two of you there, there are two sets of ears to hear what is actually said. There are two mouths to ask questions. This specific helps avoid the tension to hear what you want to hear. Being with her each time will reassure her, help her overcome, as well as make you feel not bad about yourself. She'll love you for of which.
6. She is actually not an invalid
Your wife or partner is actually not fragile. She will not break. Treatment can be grueling as well as tiring, nevertheless you both need to live your life as fully as possible. Continue to enjoy what you enjoy individually as well as as a couple, particularly the latter. One of our best friends as well as an inspiration for many jogged to her chemotherapy appointments when battling a recurrence of breast cancer. of which is actually called zest for living, being inside the currently.
Let your bride do anything she is actually up to trying. In Shirley's case over the course of her year of treatment, of which included walks at Greenwich Point, skiing, putting up with some golf with me, buttering with flowers, as well as even on occasion agreeing to go sailing with me. You need to take your cues through her. She knows what she can do, or how tired she may be feeling, whether of which's a not bad day or not. When she's ready, encourage as well as support her without pushing her. Get out when she's ready.
As I reflect, of which was important for Shirley as well as I to live life fully as a couple as well as as a family with Alison. We knew our time together here might be very short as well as we wanted to live our life together fully. We did not anticipate the length of life we've been blessed with together. Shirley is actually a miracle as well as so is actually your wife or partner, no matter what the ultimate exit.
7. Sex After Breast Cancer
This specific is actually another place where a man needs to let his partner lead. She will let you know what works currently as well as what does not, what she's ready for, as well as what she's not. I suppose I mourned the loss of her breast as she did, as well as the change in some aspects of love-doing of which result.
The important thing to learn is actually of which life goes on as well as sex goes on. inside the first weeks, months as well as even years, your sex life may take on an added dimension of which is actually simultaneously painful as well as exquisite. Imagine how of which feels to make love to someone you feel you might lose. You do not want to hurt her. Remember, she is actually not fragile. You can giver her bear hugs both during as well as outside your lovemaking.
Shirley found a brand-new gynecologist as she went through treatment, Ed Jacobson, a warm man, the kind of physician whose presence as well as demeanor is actually comforting as well as reassuring by nature. He enriched our lives, specifically our sex lives, by suggesting we try jellies as well as creams to make intercourse easier as well as more comfortable. When your part-ner experiences menopause, whether naturally as she ages, or, as in Shirley's case, early menopause brought on at age 37 by chemotherapy as well as hormone therapy, there are issues to be addressed. This specific includes hot flashes, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, lack of lubrication, lowered libido. In explaining the use of jellies as well as creams to Shirley during an office visit, Ed described of which as "the stuff used by the prostitutes in Stamford." Sounded like not bad advice to her as well as to me. as well as, by the way, of which does work.
There is actually sex after mastectomy, wonderful, beautiful, glorious sex. as well as, inside the beginning, of which can be simultaneously exquisite as well as painful. There is actually nothing of which can quite prepare a man for doing love, as well as having intercourse, with the love of his life who he fears losing. The threat hung over our heads as well as was part of our thoughts for days, months as well as years. Shirley would likely have embarrased were I to say any more about our sex life. of which is actually intimate as well as remains a joy.
I have spoken on This specific subject to women's groups as well as social workers. Most rewarding was being part of a panel in Stamford, Connecticut having a professional sex therapist speaking ahead of me. I listened attentively as well as was pleased to find of which Shirley as well as I had figured out on our own what she described in theory. She was a theoretician explaining the principles under sexuality as well as the impact of breast surgery as well as cancer treatment. Shirley as well as I had lived of which as well as muddled through on our own just fine, thank you.
8. She is actually your trophy wife
You need to understand of which your bride, your wife, the woman you promised to cherish, the love of your life as well as your best friend is actually also the answer to your caricature male mid-life crisis. The answer is actually not a young intern wearing a thong who's young enough to be your daughter. of which is actually not a young bimbo or young college with nothing to start your next marriage, or your next family. of which is actually not a sports car, a speedboat or a brand-new set of golf clubs. of which is actually your wife.
I encountered This specific attitude as well as understanding observing the marriage of friends Joe as well as Shirley, two "adolescents in love" after more than 40 years of marriage. Rather than have a midlife crisis alternative relationship, whether sexual or emotional, how about a fling with your wife. Take her away for a comfy weekend at a romantic bed as well as breakfast. In our case, of which can be some quiet time together inside the Berkshires, preferably paddling a canoe. Or take in a Broadway show, or a not bad movie as well as an after show dessert. Fall in love. Stay in love. Be in love.
9. Lemonade through lemons
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. See the silver lining. You are not a Pollyanna to find something excellent, meaningful as well as meaningful in facing cancer, facing death as well as facing loss. Can you imagine yourself inside the shoes or the psyche of a person with cancer? Or as the husband, lover as well as lifetime partner of a woman with breast cancer? Can you understand deep in your soul what intimate is actually like, sexual as well as otherwise, when all your senses are stretched as well as heightened by the knowledge you're doing love to a woman you could lose?
You find joy to the point of pain. You discover a profound sense of being one with each some other, as well as yet there is actually awareness of which of which could be fleeting as well as transitory. Reality may break in as well as shatter the moment, nevertheless you persevere. I have often said inside the years since "our" treatment for Shirley's breast cancer of which a not bad marriage, or a solid relationship, will not only get through the trauma of breast cancer, the marriage will be strengthened as well as be the better for of which. Go figure.
10. She is actually not damaged goods
A man attending a prostate cancer support group expressed concern about being "damaged goods" following prostate cancer treatment. Your bride is actually not damaged goods with or without breastfeeding reconstruction. She remains the woman you fell in love with, the woman you committed to for a lifetime together. Get beyond the inner thoughts never expressed, wondering whether your lovemaking was altered forever. You, too, may miss her breast, as of which has welcomed you both pleasure inside the past. Whether or not to have breast reconstruction is actually a personal choice, her choice. Shirley chose not to do so, in part I believe to avoid furthering tampering with as well as "awakening" of any missed cancer cells.
currently is actually the time to live your life to its fullest together. Cleave to her. Hold her. Love her. Smell her. Taste her. Smile with her. Laugh with her. Cry with her. Get angry with her. Yes, you still have "negative" feelings as well as emotions. You are still human beings inside the ebb as well as flow of a love relationship of which is actually more intense than most of those around you. You'll both survive as well as thrive if you stay together.