Recognizing the Men Who Take Care of Women with Breast Cancer

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide June 16, 2010
  • A few weeks ago, my phone rang at work.  My husband was sick--running a fever of 101.4--he sounded miserable.  Carl doesn't fit many stereotypes, but on this occasion he was following the script for the husband who falls apart when he gets sick.  He couldn't find the Tylenol; he was aching; he was chilled; he was nauseated; he thought he might be able to stay alive until I got home, but he wasn't sure. 

     

    I arrived home, got Carl the Tylenol (right at the front of the shelf where I told him it would be), and started two days of concentrated catering.   I grumbled a little, and we both recognized how absurdly he was over the top with his "don't worry; the life insurance is paid up" routine.

     

    Nevertheless, I happily brought Carl broth and checked his temperature.  It will take a lot more soup and sympathy before I've paid back the care he gave me when I had cancer.  As we approach Father's Day in the United States, it's time to recognize the support of the men who are often the caregiver for breast cancer patients.

     

    My husband gave me fantastic emotional support.  Carl cried with me.  He hugged me and assured me it would be OK, even when OK really meant, "Somehow we will get through whatever happens."  He went with me to the doctor, but he let me be in charge of asking the questions.  He helped me sort through complicated medical decisions, but he made it clear that he would support whatever I decided.  He helped me with the hard conversations with our children.  He held my hand when the nurses searched for a vein.  He was there when I woke up from surgery.

     

    For over a year, Carl did all kinds of household chores that had been mine.  When I got home from work, I went straight to bed while he cooked and cleaned up.   He wiped my face after I threw up.   He drove me when I couldn't drive.  He did all of this without complaining.

     

    Every couple has its own dynamics, and every cancer caregiver has specific gifts.  One breast cancer patient said she knew her husband couldn't handle the doctor's office or hospital and that was OK with her.  He worked extra hours without complaining to pay the medical bills, and he cleaned the toilet so that she would have a clean place to vomit. 

     

    Unfortunately, not every woman's man comes through for her when breast cancer strikes; but most do.  The men in our lives are doing double duty with the carpool to get kids to soccer and keep their lives feeling normal.  They are cooking or picking up take-out when we are too sick to cook.  They call the insurance company to straighten out the mix-ups.  They hold us when we are afraid even as their own fears gnaw on them.   Some of these men become single fathers when cancer takes their beloved.

     

    So on Father's Day, thank a man who has supported you or another woman with breast cancer.

     

    Thank you, honey.  I'm glad you are feeling better, but if you do get sick again, I owe you at least 363 more days before we are anywhere near even.  Happy Father's Day!