Finding yourself in Cancer World happens very suddenly. The doctor -- or someone close to you -- tells you it's cancer, and all of a sudden everything changes. How are you supposed to know, instantly, how to be supportive to a woman going through something this terrifying?
I thought the best way to offer help to the husbands, other family members, partners, and friends who suddenly find themselves thrust into this role was to ask the cancer patients themselves what was most -- and least -- helpful. Here are seven things women with breast cancer and their partners have discovered about what worked best when it came to supporting them through this ordeal.
Support whatever she decides.
Breast cancer involves endless decisions: lumpectomy and radiation or mastectomy? Some women elect to have a bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed), so they feel safer. These decisions can be really scary for a woman to talk to her partner and friends about. It may sound like she's asking for advice, and you may feel underqualified to give it.
Don't worry -- no one expects you to be a medical expert. Your role is to act as a sounding board. Listen to everything she says without judgment, letting her bounce her thoughts off of you. Help her weigh the pros and cons, but let her make the decisions. And make it clear you'll be behind her 100 percent. Try to listen for the fears and other emotions underlying her decision, and offer as much emotional reassurance as you can.
This is particularly important when it comes to the emotional flashpoint of mastectomy. Many women resist mastectomy even when the doctor advises it, because they fear their partner will find them less attractive. If you're that partner, this is where you come in. Let her know what you really care about: her safety and health, and reassure her that her fears are unfounded. Tell her that her health is paramount and you feel strongly that she not take unnecessary risks where her life and future are concerned.