Getting Through Chemo: How to Be a Supportive Breast Cancer Husband

Doug Haberstroh Health Guide
  • The first few chemo treatments are probably the hardest. Not that the treatments get any easier or less of a bother as you progress, but the first few are the beginning of a whole new way of life for both the patient and the caregiver.

    My wife Keri and I were lucky, lucky in the sense that we had an amazing support group and an amazing group of friends, co-workers, and medical staff that lent a hand at the drop of a hat. We lived in a town where we had no close, immediate family members. However with that said, our families were there for us whenever we needed them. Late night phone calls, long-distance drives, short-notice flights, and constant love and worry.

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    If I had to sum up in one word what you need the most of during this battle it would be support. You may think you are strong and independent, but even the strongest person has a weak moment and needs a lift of spirit, a helping hand, or just a kind gentle word every now and then. Keri and I were no different. I supported Keri with everything I had, my life became her life.


    Doug Helps Keri Shave her Head

    Doug helps Keri shave her head.



    I thought nothing of late night drives to the local 24 hour pharmacy because a new pain had started or a prescription was being called in by our doctor. Cleaning the house because I knew Keri couldn't be around dust or dirt became a no-brainer. Massaging her body when it hurt wasn't a question. Grocery shopping, cooking, washing clothes, taking care of the dog, running errands, and keeping on top of my "Honey-Do" list just became normal life. It didn't cause me to blink an eye.

    What I'm trying to portray is that life during chemotherapy, and breast cancer treatment overall doesn't become a list of His and Her chores.

    Life becomes, "I'll get that for you Babe", "Babe don't worry about it, I've got it under control", "Is there anything you need?" "What can I do for you?" and the most important: "I love you, and I'm here for you." I always had the feeling that the more comfortable and less stressful I made it for Keri, the more energy she could save for herself to fight her battle. We can't fight cancer for others. God only knows if that was the case then Keri would still be here with us today, but what we can do are the little things for those who are fighting the biggest thing, cancer.


    As I stated above, life starts taking on a new form once you start chemo. New foods have to be introduced into the daily diet, new needs must be met, new medications must be tracked and taken as prescribed, and every little pain, cough, or fever must be taken seriously and recorded for the doctor to learn about and manage.

    Keri loved to cook, and one of her biggest complaints during treatments was that she lost the energy to be in the kitchen.

    Lucky for her, I stepped into the cooking role full-speed. Not because I love cooking, but because I love food. Cooking was interesting to say the least. We received a list of what Keri couldn't have and what was recommended during chemotherapy, so basically our diets revolved around that list. It made grocery shopping easy at least. Everything with fruit or vegetables had to be washed prior to being cooked or consumed. Nothing raw could be eaten, like fish and certain cheese.

  • Healthy food was the best. Lucky for me, I married a woman who loved her vegetables, and also unlucky for me since I'm not a big veggie guy. Meat and taters are the way to my heart. She loved stir-fry, cabbage rolls, and chicken dishes. I was able to handle that, and I became pretty good at cooking, if I can toot my own horn.

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    One of our biggest concerns became handling the medications. Keri would always laugh and said she felt like one of those old ladies whose day is dictated by her medication clock. (Not making fun, just kind of weird for a 25 year old to have to live like that).

    About a week or so into her first treatment, we found that we needed help with the medications. Laying them out on the table the night prior just wasn't working anymore. In order to keep track of them all, we purchased a pill container that divided the days up by AM and PM slots -- best idea ever. We could lay out an entire week's worth of pills and not have to worry about missing a pill or taking one too many.

    We kept a list of all of Keri's medications and kept all the literature on them as well, which I also recommend.

    The literature came in handy more than a few times when she would develop a weird side effect. We went to our folder, read some of the listed side effects and then could narrow the field to a couple of the medications before we called the doctor. I guess we found comfort in knowing what was causing what.

    Our lives seriously became a revolving door of doctors' visits, treatments, surgeries, hospital visits, late night sweats, late night fevers, long serious talks, followed sometimes by laughter or crying. Through all of this though we still managed to have fun. I mean FUN!

    We spent days on the beach, visited Disney World and saw Mickey and the gang, went shopping together (trust me I'm like any other guy, but when you see your wife smile because she feels good enough to get out and shop, shopping becomes cool), saw movies, enjoyed parties with friends, and always just used to hold each other without saying a word and knowing how much we loved each other.


    Doug's Card to Keri
    A card Doug gave to Keri.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that, yes, once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, life changes.

    There's no way to make that smell any better, but that doesn't mean that you can't laugh. It doesn't mean that you don't have a need for fun and you have to stop loving. This is the time that all those things become the most important. Don't be afraid to laugh out loud -- who cares what the person next to you thinks. If you feel good, that's all that matters because Lord knows you've felt like crap more than your fair share.

Published On: August 16, 2007