Afraid. Panicked. Despondent. The words apply to the more than one million women diagnosed with breast cancer annually around the world, but they also describe the husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and friends accompanying the sufferer on her daunting journey.
Bedford-Stuyvesant author John W. Anderson uses personal experience and extensive research to combine solid practical advice with emotional guidance in his landmark book “Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men” [Amacom, 2009] to help men overcome the fear and frustration of dealing with the disease, and equip them with the knowledge and resources they need to be rocks in tough times.
Anderson wrote the book because he found himself at a loss for coping tools when four women in his life went through the disease.
“I realized that there really wasn’t anything out there for caregivers of breast cancer patients,” says the writer, whose book offers insight into medical, psychological, family, sexual, and financial issues, in addition to an exhaustive section of print, online, and other resources for patients and caregivers.
The spouse emerges as a central figure in the breast cancer story because his wedding vows probably stated he would be there for her “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’til death do us part,” claims Anderson.
“The fascinating thing about this vow is that the ‘sickness and in health’ phrase is the only sequence in the vow where the negative event is proclaimed before the positive one,” he says. “Maybe that’s because it’s the hardest thing of all to do in a marriage.”
Among the top pieces of advice is to mirror your spouse’s mood.
“If she wants to laugh, laugh, if she wants to cry and be afraid, comfort her and don’t minimize her fear,” Anderson says. “If she’s angry, validate that anger, and agree with her that this cancer thing really sucks, and only offer an opinion if, and when, she asks for it.”
The best tip of all?
“Show her affection because she needs to know you are there for her,” says Anderson. “As you promised you would be when you said those hallowed words, ‘for better or worse.’ ”
“Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men” [Amacom, 272 pages, 2009]; www.amazon.com/Stand-Her-Breast-Cancer-Guide/dp/B0057DD02K.