WHAT DO I DO NOW?
If you are like most men, you will probably be eager to put the emotional issues aside, and spring into “action.” “Okay, so what do I do now?” is probably high on your list of questions. “How do I solve this problem?”
The good news is that you are in a position to contribute greatly to the peace of mind and success of treatment for your loved one. As the husband, partner, “significant other” or principal caregiver, you are in the best position to influence the attitude with which she accepts her diagnosis. And that can make all the difference!
Be as thoughtful as you can in your words and actions. What you do and say in the first few minutes and days after she hears her diagnosis, will make a great difference in how she feels about it herself. Your reaction will play an important role in her physical and mental recovery, so try to be as positive and supportive as you can. One of the most constructive steps you can take is to get involved in her care from the very beginning.
Learn all you can about the disease and the most current treatment options. Search the net, read books, ask questions. Take the time to discuss the information that the two of you gathered, and compare your impressions. Help her stay focused and not go off on tangents.
Accompany her on visits to her healthcare specialists. Bring a list of questions you want answered. Take notes, or use a tape recorder, so you can review the information you received. Don’t be disappointed by how little you understand at first. First of all, you are listening through a thick curtain of emotional turmoil. Second, breast cancer treatment is a complex topic, and no one can be expected to grasp all the details on the first pass. Trust me on this. I am a doctor, and I understood next to nothing during the first few visits. If nothing else, your mere presence will provide emotional support and a second set of ears.
If you or your partner feel you need a second opinion, don’t hesitate to ask her physician for a referral, or seek one on your own. For something as important as breast cancer treatment, you owe it to yourselves to leave no avenue unexplored. Some of the decisions you two will be making are not reversible, so now is the time to really scrutinize your plan. Don’t be afraid to “offend” her physician by asking for a referral to someone else. No reputable healthcare professional will resent your request.
Bear in mind that the diagnosis of breast cancer is almost never an emergency. The few exceptions include inflammatory breast cancer that tends to be rapidly growing and should be treated as soon as possible. In most other cases, you and your partner have several weeks to research your options, and make important treatment decisions. Do not let anyone or anything rush you.
Here is the part that you might find to be the most difficult: you must remember that the final decisions about treatment will be hers. Being supportive and helpful does not mean taking over. If you have been in this relationship for some time, you hopefully have learned when to argue, when to persuade, and when to just step back and say, “Honey, if that is what you want to do, I am there for you one hundred percent.”