Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Australia, with one in eight women developing the disease in their lifetime. While the survival rate has greatly improved in the last few years, the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s goal is to reach zero deaths by 2030. Every contribution counts and we attended a NBCF breakfast held by ghd Australia announcing that they were going to donate $1 million in 2013 to celebrate their 10th year supporting the NBCF. In turn NBCF made the iconic beauty brand a Pink Diamond sponsor.
At the breakfast they had asked Louise Sinclair to speak to the media, a working lawyer, former triathlete and mother of four who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was pregnant with her fourth child. There wasn’t a dry eye in house while Sinclair told us about her struggle with breast cancer, especially the difficulty of being pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy and radio therapy while in her third trimester. Sinclair was lucky to have a very supportive family around her, with husband playing a significant supporting role in her struggle with breast cancer.
But where do men who’s partners have been diagnosed with breast cancer turn?
Time to help the men
There are many things we love about the men in our lives, mostly that they are in them and always there when you need a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on. But one thing I don’t love is that they never ask for help from you or a doctor. So where can men who are in relationships with breast cancer suffers turn if they don’t want to be seen to be vulnerable and needing some support?
NBCF recently released the results of their first ever ‘direct to men’ research project where they found that there was a lack of information, inclusion and support for men who are living with women who have breast cancer.
‘Ending The Silence’ is co-authored by NBCF’s CEO, Carole Renouf, aims to shed light on what the experiences of male partners.
“The scientific literature recognises that there is a reciprocal relationship between the wellbeing of the partner and the wellbeing of the woman. It is therefore imperative that we start to treat partners as part of a unit of care,” Ms Renouf said.
“The problem is that men are incredibly hard to reach and reluctant to talk about their journey, their experience of being thrown into the caring role and their feelings about not being able to fix it. This makes it almost impossible for researchers to gather enough information to develop suitable resources, programs and support networks.”
While doing the research for this report, NBCF sent out a survey to over 400 men to which only six male partners responded with a further eight agreeing to in-depth interviews.
“That exposed the code of ‘omerta’ that renders these men’s voices inaudible,” Ms Renouf said. “However, the men we did talk to showed us the depth and duration of their distress, which is in turn supported by the review of existing studies of cancer carers. These men found they had to do it alone.”
One man who was happy to be interviewed was father of three, Brian Brady, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
“When you’re confronted with the fact that your wife has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, it can feel overwhelming. I tried to speak to family and friends – some tried to be helpful but they didn’t really know what to say or what to do or how to offer the support that I needed,” Mr Brady admitted.
“There was help for my wife, there was information available on how to help the kids, but for me there was nothing. Some of my mates wanted to take me out for a beer and show me a ‘good time’ to help me forget. All I wanted was someone to have a chat to but in that situation, mates will do anything rather than listen.”
Brian’s advice for men in a similar position is to try not to fix things and to accept being vulnerable.
What can be done?
The Ending the Silence research shows that more research is required into the how men cope with their partners suffering from breast cancer, and how best it would be to provide support for them. Issues which emerged range from a lack of information, inclusion and support through to changing relationships and concerns about employment, sexual intimacy and body image.