We Might Not Be The Best At Showing It, But Men Have Emotions Too
It’s October; the leaves are turning rust and red and gold. Pumpkin everything is lining grocery store shelves. Amid the endless aisles of Halloween candy and decorations and costumes are flashes of pink; a reminder that something really scary is happening to too many women, even men - breast cancer.
It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.
After watching Joan Lunden, my wonderful and iconic inspiration, on the Today Show the other day, I was moved to address this month’s article from a mostly male perspective. This particular diagnosis comes like a sledge hammer but much like so many other diagnoses in a family system, energy, feelings, thoughts and questions bounce around like a pin ball game.
I do not know of many illnesses that are not a “family illness”. I might be biased as a social worker who works with family systems but it is safe to say that when any bomb goes off in a family the shrapnel will create collateral damage. No one can know for certain who it will hit or how injurious it might be.
Often, men and women alike are not great in communicating their fears or trepidations about the future. That is why I have to say that whenever a loved one, male or female, is diagnosed with breast cancer the first order of business is to pull in a savvy, licensed third party who is educated and trained to understand breast cancer.
From my experience as a man and psychologist, men do not seem to have developed open communication skills or as high an emotional intelligence as women have when it comes to diseases such as breast cancer. Few of us know how to communicate except to offer support and even then the answers are obtuse. Our emotions can become raw as fear, anxiety and life itself seem to provoke questions that are not readily answered or even asked. When communication gets repressed and men move away, women interpret this sad process as rejection. Believe me when I tell you that children feel and experience it all.
Open communication can be the difference between two people coming together as a powerful supportive team or getting divorced and running as fast away as possible. Over the years, I have seen that with the patients who push for this ongoing weekly therapeutic relationship, the future is powerful and deeper bonds evolve; the union becomes stronger. Children experience the communication and the growing bond and it eases their fears and anxieties as well.
We don’t have to journey through cancer alone; we never did. Thankfully there are more and more support groups available for us. All we have to do is GO to them. There is valuable information to be shared there. Many of us feel that demonstrating our feelings makes us appear “less than a man”; this s an illusion! Sometimes, a man's libido may drop -- not so much because he is no longer attracted to his wife or significant other, but because of the uncertainty and unknown associated with the situation and his/her body.
Communicating and talking openly makes relationships more fun and satisfying; especially when you both talk about each other’s needs for physical, emotional, mental and sexual health. You can’t expect a partner to know what you want and need unless you tell them. The simple fact is that none of us can read minds, so it's important to be open about your needs and expectations.
Finally, John W. Anderson has detailed his personal journey through this disease in his book, Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men. Anderson stood by his mother, wife, sister, and his mom’s closest friend as they battled breast cancer. His book details these experiences, and all that he learned by being on the frontlines of this battle with four of the most important women in his life.
Other books written by men for men on the subject are Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) during Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond, by Marc Silver; You Can't Fix Everything: A Husband's Perspective On Dealing With Breast Cancer, by John W. Boyd; and Husband's Guide to Breast Cancer: A Complete & Concise Plan for Every Stage, by Todd Outcalt.
There are few illness more than Breast Cancer that is proof positive of this saying: United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
Thank you, my dear Joan, for carrying on your Father’s energy and helping to heal this earth of ours. I am so proud to call you my friend.