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Man's Guide to Breast Cancer

Author John W. Anderson shares insights on how men can stand by women with breast cancer.

Your mom lost her battle with breast cancer. How are your wife, sister and mom’s best friend, Caryl?

They are doing great. My wife is now coming up on her ninth anniversary. My sister has been cancer-free since 2002, and Caryl is coming up on 30 years.

Is there still a lot of anxiety around follow-up testing?

There is always worry, but worry becomes less and less as each anniversary passes. It sure feels better when tests are negative and you get a confirmation that all is well.

What did you learn from each of these “Four Extraordinary Women” as they coped with cancer?

My mother taught me about strength. When she was diagnosed, the doctors gave her three to six months to live. Her youngest child was 5 or 6 at the time. She said ‘I am not gonna die. I am going to get my last kid through high school.’ She willpowered it, and got him through junior year.

My wife taught me about selflessness. When she was first diagnosed, she apologized to me because I would have to go through it all over again. She was always concerned about how I was doing and how our kids were doing, and was a great wife and mother even though she was going through a difficult time. She also taught me the value of doing your research. She dug deep and got a lot of second opinions.

My sister taught me about spirituality. Her spiritual strength and ability to deal with obstacles was inspiring.

Caryl taught me how to be a better caregiver. She was there so much for my mom that it gave me groundwork for when my wife and sister were diagnosed. My mother and Caryl went over the top and moved into each other’s houses when each of them was diagnosed with breast cancer.

What can men do to help women in their lives feel good about themselves while being treated for breast cancer?

It depends on whether it’s a husband-wife, father-daughter, mother-son, or another type of relationship. Husbands can make their wives feel good by bringing her flowers and telling her you think she is as beautiful as the day you met. Her femininity has been challenged in this situation and she needs to know you are there for her. There is no cast-iron way to do this, but tune in to her needs, wants, fears, and insecurities.

Many women with breast cancer say that their partners had a hard time with their appearance after treatment, especially at first. Did that happen for you?

“It is impossible to generalize how each man reacts to his partner when he first sees how his loved one looks to him after surgery. Keep in mind that many breast cancer surgeries are lumpectomies, which are partial removals of breast tissue, not a full removal like a mastectomy, so the change isn’t necessarily that extreme. With that said, sure there are men out there who have a hard time with it, but I would say that most men don’t, especially if they truly love their wives or significant others.

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