Writer and producer John W. Anderson shares his inspiration behind creating resources for men who are helping the women in their lives fight breast cancer.
By Laura Lee Bloor
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Just listen to her. Sometimes that may mean not talking. She needs to understand she is being heard. Remember that it is her situation, and she needs to take the lead on it. Sometimes she may not move as quickly as you like, but it's her deal, and you need to support it.
2. Follow her lead.
When she does take action, it is your job to follow her lead, not take the lead. That can be hard for men sometimes.
3. Show her your love.
This is especially important after surgery so that she knows you love her for who she is. Just being there for her is important. If it's your wife or partner, touch, kiss, and hold her often.
4. Humor is critical.
The "laugh medicine" is vital. Don't underestimate it. It will get you through the dark times.
5. Keep your influences positive.
When a woman you love gets diagnosed with breast cancer, you'll be surprised at who steps up and who doesn't. Some will be toxic people that you will need to remove from your group. Rally a strong support team of friends, doctors, family, and spirituality.
6. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
For most people, it's going to be a happy ending. Statistics show that survival rates for breast cancer are in the 90th percentile if it's detected early. It's hard to keep this in perspective at first, but you and the woman you love can get through this.
7. Help her and you gain a new understanding and appreciation for life.
Life is precious, and a life-threatening disease definitely highlights that. You will get a new "normal" when you both make it through this. Embrace it; it will help you really crystallize what's important in life and what isn't.
After John W. Anderson lost his mother in 1988 to a 10-year battle with breast cancer, he had hoped that would be the last time he would encounter the condition.
Then in January 2001, his wife, Sharon Rapoport, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no family history of it, as do 85% of other women who are diagnosed.
Just a little over one year later, Anderson's younger sister, Mary Enright, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Anderson has also witnessed his mother's best friend, Caryl Spease, and his good friend, Brenda Foster, fight breast cancer.
With one in eight women developing breast cancer at some time in their life, Anderson knew he couldn't be the only man helping multiple women battle the condition. As he sought advice on how to cope, as well as how best to support the women he loved, he soon discovered few resources were available for men.
"There was some stuff out there but not really a guidebook," he said. "[And I thought] I need to do something about this. There are a lot of guys who need help, and they're not getting it."
In response, Anderson wrote the newly released Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men. The book takes a step-by-step approach for men on how to handle a breast cancer diagnosis. It uses a lot of personal stories so that other guys know they're not alone in their experiences, Anderson said.
"The thing guys hear when [breast cancer] happens to them is, 'How's she doing? How's she doing?' but no one is asking you, 'How are you doing?'" he said.
In conjunction with the book, Anderson recently launched the web site http://www.standbyher.org that draws from all the principles in the book. StandbyHer.org also has forums for guys to share their experiences, build a brotherhood, and share ideas on how to better help the women in their lives who are fighting breast cancer.
"It seems like this should have been done a long time ago," he said.
Anderson's experiences were also turned into a 2006 Lifetime Television movie Four Extraordinary Women that starred Lindsay Wagner as his mother. The movie was another source of inspiration for Anderson to share his own story and lay out a road map to deal with "cancer land."
For example, when faced with a problem, men tend to strategize, but it doesn't work like that when cancer enters the picture. In this case, it is critical that men react, not act, which can be difficult for guys, Anderson said.
"Each woman is going to have a different reaction, and you have to adapt to that," he said. "You have to know your place and remember and respect what they want."