The Male View: Survival and Support -- Marc Heyison

By Marc Heyison
WebMD Live Events Transcript

For men, facing the emotional and physical changes of breast cancer is not always easy. There are resources out there to help men help the women they love. Marc Heyison, president of Men Against Breast Cancer, was our guest in the WebMD University Student Lounge.

The opinions expressed in this transcript are those of the guest and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to the WebMD Student Lounge, Mark. Please tell us about how Men Against Breast Cancer came to be.

Heyison: Men Against Breast Cancer began in 1999 but my story began in 1992 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today my mom is a 10-year survivor and I am very fortunate that she is here to see what is being done in her honor. Basically, Men Against Breast Cancer's soul mission is to target and mobilize men to be actively involved in the fight to eradicate breast cancer. And at the same time, MABC offers targeted support services to educate and empower men to be effective caregivers when breast cancer strikes their family.

Member: How do I get my husband to talk -- to anybody -- about this? He won't even talk to me about it.

Heyison: Unfortunately, in my experience, everybody's case and everybody's circumstances are different. I wish I had a set response for every time I was asked that question, however I would suggest that you talk to a healthcare professional about the best way to get your husband involved and see what his/her thoughts are. But what I have found in my experience that works in situations like this is to try and ask open-ended questions about how are you feeling and see if that helps. I know it's frustrating and I wish I could give you a magic bullet answer. If your husband wanted to contact me, I would be glad to speak to him. My email address is Mark@MenAgainstBreastCancer.org.

The one thing that I would suggest, again based on my experience, is that your husband is very afraid and really wants to be there. He is dealing with his own set of emotions as well. But contact a social worker at your hospital and see what they suggest because they are trained in these situations. And again I would be glad to talk to him if he would like to, either by telephone or email.

Moderator: I like your suggestion of talking to a doctor about getting the husband involved. Men often need a "solution" or a "plan" to deal with a problem. So maybe giving her husband a task involved in care will then cause him to open up and talk.

Heyison: My co-founder of MABC often uses the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" analogy. Meaning that for men they do like to have a task list of things to do, whether it be following up with the doctor, making sure the kids are taken care of, making sure the shopping's done, making sure future hospital stays are planned out and making either the wife, or whoever the patient is, comfortable. I suggest discussing this with a healthcare professional.

There are differences in most situations where men do feel a little more helpless because they aren't able to fix this problem; it's out of their control. But there are many areas in which men can and do play a critical role in being there for the woman he loves. Again, first and foremost, letting her know that you love her and that you're going to be there for her, to understanding that it's OK to cry in front of her, that she wants to see the emotion. Those are just a few of the many things.

And what I personally feel may be one of the most important things that a man can do is to realize that it's OK to take care of himself as well. And what I mean by that is that the caregiver needs to be emotionally secure with himself and to understand that if the situation warrants, it's OK to play golf once a month instead of every Saturday just to take care of his needs. And I say this because if you're not there for yourself, you can't give all of yourself to helping your wife and your family. I don't want this to sound selfish for the men but at the same time, it's difficult sometimes to come out because the man will feel guilty that he's doing something for himself.

I like the analogy that if you put enough pressure into a jar and put a lid on it, eventually it will explode. There needs to be some type of release. And again, every situation is different and I'm not advocating doing this unless the situation is stable enough to be done. And golf is just one example; it could be reading a book. Everybody's case is different.

Member: What can be done by the men who may be concerned that their wives or girlfriends may have breast cancer?