Men and teenagers who are faced with the diagnosis of breast cancer in a woman they love — their wife, partner, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend or colleague — report feeling shocked, anxious or angry. Yet, men often believe that they need to be ‘towers of strength’ and so hide these feelings including the fear that the woman they love may die.
This tendency of men not to speak out or express their needs can lead to higher levels of distress, and can work against their desire to help the situation. Research has shown that by denying fears and concerns, men make matters worse for themselves, their partners and loved ones, and their children.
Further, while distress and uncertainty tend to decline over time among breast cancer patients, these feelings tend to increase among partners. Some researchers believe this prolonged distress is because of men’s tendency to disregard their own feelings in preference to the needs of their loved ones.
Often women who have breast cancer say they are touched when their partner raises their concern that they may die — in contrast to not raising it at all.
The first challenge for men whose partner or loved one has breast cancer is to acknowledge that, unlike other challenges in life, breast cancer is not something that men can ‘fix’. The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre suggests that men can take practical steps to make things better for themselves and their families, such as becoming better informed about breast cancer, seeking day-to-day practical help with family issues, and taking action that promotes better emotional health for themselves and their families.
Last Reviewed: 09 December 2009