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Did you know that almost twenty-five percent of husbands leave their wives after they are diagnosed with breast cancer? Statistics say many of those marriages are in trouble to begin with, although when roles are reversed, only three percent of women leave their husbands. It makes me wonder what part of “in sickness and in health” do men not remember?
I know of a man who left his wife after her diagnosis. Not only did he abandon her, he left their 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter to become their mother’s primary caregivers. What kind of man does that? What kind of message is he sending his son? Another breast cancer husband I know was so unsympathetic during his wife’s chemotherapy he actually told her to take an aspirin and “snap out of it.”
OK, so most men were not raised to be caregivers, or they want their wives, girlfriends and mothers to take care of them. In addition they may be afraid of acknowledging their mortality and yours, and they may be afraid of how breast cancer will affect their sex lives. Notice I said “their” sex lives.
Most little boys dream of becoming heroes: men who pull people from burning buildings or save a buddy in a war zone. For most of us heroes are ordinary people who step-up in times of crisis and do what is right for their family. As breast cancer caregivers, men do not have to wade through smoke and fire or dodge enemy bullets. This is, however, an opportunity for them to become a hero; to help not just a stranger in need, but the one person they have pledged before God to be responsible for until death do them part—their wife.
Men… you want to be a hero? Then realize this is not about you. It is about getting your wife and family through this crisis with love, support and optimism. If they cannot rely on you who can? Do not become one of those statistics who leaves their wife and thinks they can find another woman and become her hero because you cannot. It is not in you. And if it sounds like I am being hard on some of you… get over it.
I believe most husbands are good at showing and telling their wives how special they are; how much they are appreciated and loved. Caring for her while she has breast cancer is a chance to show your love in ways she and your family will never forget. You are the intangible support that boosts her immune system, gives her hope and helps her make it from one day to the next. In some cases you may make the literal difference between life and death.
No one is saying this will be easy, but you will have given your family and those around you a role model they will respect and carry with them forever. Your towering legacy of strength, whether you feel strong or not, will show them how to cope with other tough times they will surely face. You will be a hero. An angel without wings.