Men are survivors too

Rhonda M. Smith, founder, Breast Cancer Partner

Today’s guest post is written by Rhonda Smith founder of Breast Cancer Partner, an online resource aimed at breast cancer survivors who are nearing the end of treatment or who are on their journey to recovery. I am very impressed with what Rhonda is doing to share her experience of surviving and thriving beyond breast cancer and am delighted to be able to share her thoughts with you today.

Men are Survivors Too

I started out with a completely different intent with this blog, and totally focused on something else all together, but I received an email this morning from someone that really touched me. So, I decided to re-direct my thoughts and talk about something that we are aware of but often may not always address appropriately or enough. That is, the journey that men experience who are the spouses or significant others of breast cancer survivors.

I received an email from a man named Jay, the spouse of a survivor in Arkansas, in response to reading my article in More Magazine. I have no idea on earth how he found the correct email for me but he did. In his email he was expressing his thoughts about the need for support resources for men like him. Jay went on to say that “I knew nothing of breast cancer until the day my lovely wife informed me that she was diagnosed with this terrible disease. I stood by her through the surgeries and cared for her at home during the recovery phase. But, I had no way of knowing what emotional impact she was going through, let alone my own emotional issues, and no way to find out.”

Jay and I actually ended speaking by phone before the day was over, and it was such a lovely conversation. We “bonded” instantly, as I could totally relate to what he shared with me about his experience as a caregiver for his wife, having observed some dynamics from my family as I was going through my own breast cancer ordeal. I really appreciated his openness and honesty about himself and the emotional condition of men, in general, compared to women and how they are not quite the same emotional creatures that women are.

After that conversation with Jay, I realized that although we don’t really acknowledge them in this way, but “men are survivors too”. They take that journey along side their spouse or significant other, and they also suffer pain and emotional side effects of breast cancer treatment. Albeit they’re not the actual patient but they sure experience some “trauma” from the disease during and even sometimes after treatment is over.

Oddly enough, after speaking with Jay several pieces of information came to me via email, totally out of the blue, about spouses and male significant others of survivors suffering from depression and anxiety. One of the articles entitled “Male Partners of Breast Cancer Patients May Suffer Depression was about a Danish study. The study findings indicate that the male partners of women with breast cancer were almost 40% more likely than other men to be hospitalized for severe depression and anxiety. Even psychologist Wendy G. Lichtenthal at Slone Kettering in New York suggests that “men may be stressed by factors such as intense caregiving and the risk of losing their partner.”

I think that as you go through breast cancer treatment, the focus should be on “you” and getting through the process successfully and as healthy as possible. However, in doing so I think that the men in our lives, whether they are spouses, significant others, brothers, friends, etc. may sometimes become “unintended casualties” in our own personal battle against breast cancer. So, it is important that while taking care of ourselves, we try to find a way to manage our relationship with our loved ones to the best of our ability. Remember that they too, in some way, suffer because of our breast cancer, even though they are not the ones actually receiving or recovering from treatment.

As stated in “Managing Healthy Relationships” on the Breast cancer Partner website, remember to “Embrace your strength and discover what you can teach them from what you have learned from your experience. At the same time, validate their strength, and see what you can learn from them. This not only can enrich you, but also strengthen your relationship with them and help them, and you, find more meaning behind your breast cancer experience. All of this aids you and your loved ones’ emotional healing process as well.

When you are with a loved one, cherish the genuine connection between the two of you. Whether you share a laugh, a hug, a kind word, a meal or a wonderful distraction, allow yourself to be in the moment with this person. Live life alongside your loved one and welcome the support that’s given.

At the same time, make sure that you are still honoring and taking care of yourself in the process. As typical with most women, you can easily give so much of yourself to others that you have nothing left for yourself. This does not help you or anyone else, especially during the breast cancer recovery process.”

So, let’s not forget that in our quest to overcome breast cancer, men are survivors too.

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