November 6, 2011 | by City of Hope Staff
The Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center will house a new evening clinic (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)
Through its very nature, breast cancer is a relationship disease. It can change a woman’s feelings about her body, and it’s a disease that can affect intimacy with her spouse or partner.
City of Hope surgeon Courtney Vito, M.D., knows that. She helps breast cancer patients every day, and she sees that men often don’t know how to react or relate to a woman going through the disease. In turn, women struggle with their self-image and femininity.
“Treatment for breast cancer means a very visual change, a sexual change,” Vito says. “We want men and women to start talking about it: How are you going to work through that as a couple?”
That’s part of the thinking behind the new Evening Partners Clinic, a unique, once-a-week clinic set up exclusively for breast cancer patients and their husband or partner. The idea is to bring men and women together as a team so that women can feel supported during treatment.
Couples meet with Courtney Davis, L.C.S.W., and Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., clinical social workers who understand how to get men and women talking about their relationship and then build on their strengths. Then the couples move on to Vito, who helps them make decisions about medical treatment with confidence.
It’s critical to maintain these relationships during treatment. As Davis says, research has shown that having social support helps women with breast cancer live longer. Research also found that as many as 42 percent of couples reported that a breast cancer diagnosis brought them closer together. Unfortunately, Vito also has seen couples break up after cancer, but the City of Hope team provides tools to help a couple keep the communication flowing.
“You often see both people in a couple trying to be really strong — and emotionally inaccessible,” Vito says. “But after they meet with Matt and Courtney, you can see a stronger, more open relationship between them.”
Interested in learning more about how men and women can better relate during breast cancer? Loscalzo has written a guide about the subject and the American Cancer Society offers resources on caregiving in general.