Men can either help women with breast cancer — or they can be a burden.
It’s their choice, according to Matthew Loscalzo, M.S.W., administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope.
“With such a chronic, life-threatening disease, there is no middle ground for men,” said Loscalzo, who has helped countless patients and families cope with cancer diagnosis and treatment. “You either have the courage to step up and help your partner, or you don’t. You are needed in this fight.”
Now Loscalzo has written a book to guide men through the process of maintaining and even growing a healthy, supportive relationship when their partner has been diagnosed with the all-too-common disease.
“For the Women We Love: A Breast Cancer Action Plan and Caregiver’s Guide for Men” grew partly out of Loscalzo’s professional experiences as a social worker. But it also emerged from the observations of members of Men Against Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit group that educates men to be strong caregivers for women with breast cancer and mobilizes them to fight against the disease.
Some of the key challenges facing men include differences in communication styles between men and women, confusion about breast cancer treatment, tricky questions about keeping romance alive, practical problems with caregiving, and how a woman transitions into life as a survivor, Loscalzo said.
As men, we want to fix a problem. Unfortunately, we can’t fix cancer or change it,” Loscalzo said. “We can listen to women’s fears, though, and assure them we will be there for them. We can also make small changes in how we communicate, paying attention to the words we use and making an effort to be open, honest and nonjudgmental. Ultimately, it is all about gender synergy — bringing out the best in each other.”
Part of the difficulty in communication between men and women, Loscalzo noted, is differences in how people cope with serious issues. While many men may focus more heavily on achieving a goal — something tangible — women may tend to focus on their cancer journey.
“For example, a man may be helpful in getting a woman to treatment sessions or getting the medications she needs; and then when she reaches the end of her treatment, he feels as though her cancer experience is over and she should move on,” Loscalzo said. “Women may still grieve over losing a breast and feel the loss of their previous way of life — and feel hurt that their partner doesn’t understand that life has changed forever.”
But his experience has taught him that men can effectively learn a new framework for talking and solving problems that can help bring couples closer together rather than driving them apart.
“The encouraging aspect to our work is that both men and women can learn techniques within the context of profound respect so that they can create common ground where they both experience a deep sense of emotional and spiritual connection,” he said.
The book also contains information about how men can help women who are not their partners, such as mothers, sisters or close friends, as well as issues that may arise when children are involved.
Readers may obtain the book ($12, Bartleby Press) through Amazon.com.