Supporting Women With Cancer Is Uncharted Territory for Many Men

Bill was a fishing acquaintance, outwardly a man’s man. A drover and farmer, now retired, he still talked rough. But one fishing day, looking out to sea, when his wife’s cancer came up, he showed me a rare vulnerable side. He shook a little as he told me how hopeless he felt trying to comfort and care for her.

Bill had never done any house work and felt like a failure, and failure he’d rather not face after a life built around expertise in the bush-riding, farming and fishing.

I got a brief glimpse into the ‘inside’ of this man and met him there with compassion-then it was gone and the hard man-hard talk returned.

Bill did not know of my background-he’d never asked. He did not know I’d facilitated groups of boys and men in prisons, the workplace and more recently in cancer groups. I just listened to Bill but in the listening something changed….

Family dynamics change significantly when a partner is diagnosed with cancer. If unacknowledged and left unspoken, this can be a source of stress. Care-givers have different needs to patients. Giving guidance and assistance to men as cancer care givers is specialised work. Many male care givers will need compassionate guidance in adapting to their new roles.

Key issues for attention are relationship changes and their dynamics, planning, authentic communication with partners, family and medical practitioners, researching treatment options, avoiding alt/med, who to believe, emotional resilience and avoiding burn-out, sense of failure, death, work issues, along with many other problems faced by male care-givers.

One of the issues for men is the ability to calmly but rationally discuss treatment options for their partner. More women than men have a leaning towards new age ideology which includes alternative cancer treatments. The people who promote alt/med know how to speak to the emotional heart of most women and their cancer cure material dominates the internet. This is an area of conflict for many couples.

There are two common approaches to cancer healing. One is grounded in science and pragmatic while the alt/med methods sell the emotional and sell certainty that most scientists would be reluctant to espouse. For example the web abounds with statements like – “Join the thousands of people who read my book and are free of cancer today as a result.” Or – Cancer Options: “The Surprising Power of Mother Nature!” Or – “Here is our nutritional advice for people looking for effective alternatives to Chemo & Radiotherapy!” (Promoting B17)

Such statements say what frightened cancer patients want to believe and so seemingly logical people are ‘hypnotised’ and thus make decisions from a trance-like state. Such people exhibit a ‘doe-eyed’ quality which is quite obvious to us in the industry. I caution patients to become more self aware and notice when they are making an emotionally driven decision rather than a rational one. With prior permission men can gently point this out to their partners when they ‘trance-out.’

I know the ‘C’ word and associated fear along with a desire to follow ‘nature wisdom’ is partly to blame for the emotional approach. Like many men I was influenced by my previous partner who was a ‘spiritual therapist.’ The desire to ‘please’ our partner can mean we investigate and even adopt much of their belief system. Once I may have made similar alt/med biased choices myself so I write this from a point of compassion and understanding for men whose partners are very convincing. Nevertheless this discussion is serious for it can be a matter of less pain/more pain, life or death!

Male partners need to learn how cancer works so they can address the ‘apparent’ certainty of the alt/med claims compared to more cautious claims from the medical profession

The great scientist Carl Sagan said – “Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence.” But sadly, despite the enthusiasm, at this point in time you will not get exceptional evidence from the alt/med cancer cure lobby.

Supporting women with cancer is ‘uncharted’ territory for many men…