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The Guy's Guide to Breast Cancer

If the woman you love is diagnosed with breast cancer, you have to cope, too.
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What Can I Do?

For many men, the biggest challenge is dealing with the fact that they can't "fix" this. "They feel helpless. It's a horrible feeling," Perotti says. "It's very difficult to stand by and watch as the person who's dearest to you in the whole world is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and goes through treatments that may be very difficult. A lot of men want to fix things, and they're very frustrated when it becomes evident very quickly that they can't."

Instead, "Just listen," Perotti advises. "That can go contrary to instinct. She's talking about her feelings, treatment options, whatever, and he's probably going to jump to problem-solving pretty quickly. But there's tremendous value in just listening to someone. Then, what to say, if you've listened, will come naturally. Be empathetic with her feelings. Let her know that you recognize she's feeling very sad and very angry. If you're really struggling, just say 'I don't know what to say.'"

Marc Heyison, whose mother is a ten-year breast cancer survivor, and Steve Peck, who lost his wife to breast cancer, founded Men Against Breast Cancer. The organization provides resources for men who support women with breast cancer including "Partners in Survival" workshops and support tips on a wallet-sized card. "Men like to make lists of what they can do," Heyison says.

Among the card's pointers:

  • Listen without judging.
  • Be as open as possible. If you're afraid, say so. If you want to cry, cry.
  • Go to medical appointments with her whenever you can. If you can't go, make sure someone else does so she's not alone.
  • Make her hospital stays more comfortable - get her the books or videos she likes and put personal touches in the room.
  • Take care of yourself so you can be there for your family.

Communication is vital, especially when couples deal with intimacy issues. "Some men may say, 'I don't know how to approach my wife. I don't know if it's okay to be sexual with her,'" Perotti says. "If a woman is going through chemo, there will be times when the last thing on her mind will be sex. But on the other hand, she may be thinking, 'I lost a breast and he lost interest.'"

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