A cancer diagnosis is news no one wants to receive, but unfortunately, it’s becoming widespread, and we know at least one person in our social circle who has been impacted by the disease. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is one of the common types of cancer in women, affecting 2.1 million every year and it can be a lonely and overwhelming road for a woman as she undergoes treatment that can result in noticeable changes in her body such as a mastectomy. Men can often find themselves unsure of how to support the women in their lives. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a guide on what men can do:
Be sensitive and empathetic
This is a life-changing, emotional roller-coaster for everyone involved. Breast cancer brings with it a myriad of emotions, especially anger, fear and uncertainty. While you might not understand exactly what she’s going through, men can consciously choose to be present throughout their loved one’s journey by being mindful about their needs, emotions and acknowledging the fact that the ride won’t be static or predictable. When life throws a curveball in our direction, love and support from those close to us can make a huge difference. Remember to be kind and do the little things that make things more bearable: cook a comfort dish, accompany her to an appointment at the clinic, make sure you’re helping her keep track of her medication, minimize stress in any way you can. For long treatments, arrange for her favourite books, TV shows or movies. Buy flowers to add colour to her environment.
What kind of treatment plans are available? Are there any side-effects that could affect the woman in your life in the long run? What’s the most efficient course of treatment for her? Are the treatment costs covered by insurance? Find out as much as you can to take the burden off the patient as the chances are that she’s already overwhelmed. Make an informed decision together of the treatment plans and the way forward. Distil information for her when needed. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to turn to doctors and ask as many questions as you need to. The best way to support your loved one is by being in the know and on top of the paperwork and overload of information.
Simply listen to her worries, fears and doubts and share your own. Having an honest, raw conversation will help you both and ensure you’re on the same page. When she needs space, provide that. Give her time to grieve if that is what she needs after her diagnosis. Whether it’s a conversation on what’s bothering her or something that’ll distract her and make her laugh, give her what she needs during this time. Treat her with empathy, not sympathy.
Take complaints seriously
Whether that’s during chemotherapy or radiation or prior to diagnosis, pay attention to their health. If a loved one complains about breast pain or displays other common symptoms of breast cancer, accompany them to a medical professional for a consultation. It may or may not be breast cancer, but getting regular screenings and looking out for warning signs is never a bad idea. Catching the disease early in its tracks is essential and can help aid treatment and recovery.
Be vocal, go pink
Be active on social media and in your life and your network of family and friends about breast cancer. Talking actively and not being afraid to have a conversation on the illness can go a long way in helping your loved one feel supported. It’ll help reduce the stigma and shame that so often comes with a diagnosis. Look for online initiatives, group chats and join campaigns and voice your support. The more we talk about breast cancer, the less scary it is for those living with it and battling the condition. Sparking a conversation is crucial to spreading awareness and can help women get tested early and take preventive measures when necessary.
Take time for yourself
You can only provide support and be there entirely if you set aside time for your mental health and emotional needs as well. The diagnosis is going to be challenging for you as well as you watch the woman in your life to undergo a life-changing event. Consider setting time aside to check-in with yourself or doing something that’ll help you feel better — whether that’s going to therapy, for a run, confiding in a friend or journaling. Anything that helps ease your emotional burden will only help the woman in your life.
*Words by Aakanksha Tangri, Founder of Re:Set