If you’re reading this, there’s a mighty good chance that you love, love, love somebody who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. With your permission, over the next few months or maybe a year, I’m going to share my experience – a man’s experience – with a wife who’s had breast cancer. Her name is Kristy, and it’s been a journey that has lasted for more than four years and isn’t finished. I’ve learned a lot in those four years. I hope I might be able to help you, even if it’s just a little.
To start with, when I refer to your wife or your girlfriend or your mother or aunt or your daughter – whoever you’re going through it with – I’m going to refer to them as your “girl.” That seems to me to be a pretty versatile, inoffensive term, so when I refer to your “girl,” you know what I’m talking about. I guess I could call her your lady or your woman or your angel or your cutie pie or your significant other, but let’s just keep it simple and go with girl.
So she’s been diagnosed. One of your worst fears has come true.
As soon as the initial shock wears off, you’ll find yourself wondering what you should be doing. Here are three things I recommend. You can take them or leave them, but I’ve found them useful:
1. Educate YourselfThe women I’ve known who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have reacted differently. Some of them want to be proactive; they want to learn everything there is to know about the disease and what they can do to combat it. Others, including my girl, Kristy, don’t want to know anything more than what they have to do to deal with the situation each day. Since she wasn’t able to face it, I did the research, and believe me, there’s a ton of information out there. Fortunately for you, Brenda Coffee’s BreastCancerSisterhood.com – the site you’re on now – is a great place to start. Learn the lingo – terms like “invasive ductal carcinoma” and “chemo port” and “sentinel nodes” and “lumpectomy” and “mastectomy” and “breast prosthetics” are going to become important to you – and talk to her. She’ll listen if you don’t preach. Use the internet. Before you know it, you’ll start to become educated, and the better educated you become, the better prepared you’ll be to…
2. Ask QuestionsOf course they’re busy, but the doctors and nurses and support people who work in the medical field are a reliable and accessible source of information. I’ve found them more than willing to answer questions, and if you’ve educated yourself, you’ll have plenty of questions. Talk to your girl before you go to the doctor’s office and make a list of questions you want to ask the medical people. If you don’t make the list, there’s a good chance that you’ll get into the office, get distracted by something, and forget about what you wanted to ask. And as you progress through the treatment, the questions will change. You’ll have different questions for oncologists and radiologists and surgeons and chemo nurses. A few of the doctors will have the bedside manner of a rotting fish, a few of them will be just too smart to be able to communicate effectively with someone with a normal intellect, but for the most part, they’re personable and friendly and will answer any question you have. This is one of those times when the cliché is true: there are no stupid questions.
3. The Golden Rule“Do unto others…” we all know the phrase. A smile and a kind word to the medical staff will go a long way toward making things smoother for you and your girl. You’ve both been dealt a bad hand, but taking your frustration out on the people who are there to help you will do absolutely no good at all. There are times when you might have to be a bit more insistent about getting answers to specific questions, but even then, I advise you to insist politely. Treat the medical folks the way you’d like to be treated, and 99.9 percent of them will return the favor. You’ll even make a few friends along the way.
In closing today, it’s a long and difficult road, for sure. But with love, courage and commitment, you’ll get through it, you’ll get past it, and you’ll come out on the other side with a new appreciation for life and for those you love, especially your girl.
And if there’s anything I can do to help along the way, all you have to do is drop me a note in the comment box. I’m here to help. All you have to do is ask.
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