Breast Cancer in men

Support from family, friends and colleagues

Many people appreciate having support when they first find out they have cancer, whilst they are having treatment or when they are beginning to recover. Men talked about several sources of support that had helped them through difficult times.

The most important source of support for most men was their family. Almost all of them received a lot of family support, and some also had the support of friends, neighbours, colleagues and employers. Most men said that their wife had been their main source of support. They had helped to support them both practically and emotionally, including' taking time off work to look after them; listening to them when they were feeling down; being positive, strong and encouraging; sometimes bearing the brunt of their feelings of anger or frustration; accompanying them to hospital appointments; and helping them find information on breast cancer.

Stuart said his wife was his “rock”. She helped him feel positive by “keeping the house happy”...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 36

Who would you say gave you the most support as you went through?

I think the family is the main support that you have. They’re there, [my wife] was my rock, really, you know, and… if I felt down then she’d pull me up and I think what happens when you… what she said before is that if she felt down, she’d go away from me and maybe to a friend’s house and outpour, so that it wouldn’t affect me. But obviously I had her and I had my other members of the family that I could speak to as well, so they were the main support, the closest support, and you’ve got friends as well round you, but I think the… the specialists that I had to speak to and the nurse, breast care nurse, were very good, because I could speak to them whenever I wanted to and my oncologist, I even text him things and he’d come back to me and, you know… you know, I don’t know how often that happens elsewhere but I thought that was really good that he would have the time to do that.
What sort of things, can you give me examples of what sort of things that [your wife] was doing to help support you?
I think it was a case of… making me feel positive all the time and being… not being, sort of down around me. Keeping the house happy. Keeping the house upbeat, that was a good thing. Her helping me with all the looking into stuff and she would print stuff off for me as well from the websites and give it to me and “look, read this, look at this”, this sort of thing, so that helped and she helped with the, as I said, with the e-mails and the contacting the people when I was trying to go through the Herceptin, trying to get the Herceptin process, so that triggered a lot of other things in terms of getting the media involved and I don’t think probably would have had so much coverage hadn’t it been for [my wife], cos she e-mailed sort of various people and then some came back to her, so that was really good.

Tom’s wife helped him by talking about her own experiences of breast cancer treatment, finding...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 60

Can you tell me maybe a bit about how you felt your wife supported you? What did she do that just helped you get through the treatment?

My wife? Well, she stood by me all the way and she explained things to me, like what she went through. We had the same treatment but I took a bit longer, mine was six months to the 9 months because when they give you the chemo I think it’s pure poison it kills your cells in your body and if you don’t build back up again like my wife’s never, you have to give some more injections to do it, you know what I mean? That’s why she’s took nine months, so she knew what I was going through and she had that tablet, I took my medicine, I got it done, you know, cos when they give you blood tests, they always do that arm and the doctors said “never have one on that arm, always have it on that arm” and when you see some nurses “no, no, no”, I said “I have to have it on that arm” and then they have to explain to them why I got my glands out and all this... but they always go for this arm. I don’t know why.
Because you never got any information, any leaflets at the time, who got you information? Did you look for information yourself or did your wife look for you?
My wife.
Did she do that.
My wife looked for it, yeah.
She had? Why didn’t you do it?
Cos I didn’t believe I could get breast cancer, and like I say, I thought it was a bruise. What I did, just swelling, and it got big and big over the last couple of months and that’s when my wife saw it, cos I don’t like bothering doctors, you know what I mean, and that’s why I don’t go and see them, that’s why I haven’t seen one in perhaps six year.
So even when you had your diagnosis and you were obviously still in shock still then, did she then go out and try and get as much information for you as possible?
Oh, she did all sorts, yeah.
Did she?
Cos she’s experienced it, but she hadn’t experienced with a man with it. I think she was surprised at the time, men can get it, but when she were told and everything she would say all the time I meet with the doctors when I first got diagnosed when they, and they put that needle in and all that, she said “oh, it’s time” and she was explaining, you know what I mean? Cos I said, I was in tears when I was getting it, really…
Do you think you could… I mean, you said that… you probably would have seen the GP unless she’d said you need to go and get that seen. Did she… she obviously looked after you through the treatment process as well?
All the time, all the time. She was there 24 hours with me, all the time, yeah. All the time. By going into the hospital, coming out the hospital, going to the doctor with me, cos some of them’s foreign and I can’t understand half of what they’re saying, and she listens to them you know what I mean, explains it to me and that, what I have to take and what I ain’t to take. Oh, she’s very good. All the time she was with me, yeah.
Yeah. If you had any questions to ask, did you ask the doctors or did you ask her and she found out for you?
I asked her and she enquired, you know what I mean? Yeah. She did all that, for me…
So she was almost like a sort of gatekeeper or…

Something like that, yeah. Go-between, yeah, yeah. Very good, yes, used to do all that for me, just like I said, she’s experienced it with her sister and her mother and her daughter and me, she’s experienced what the different illnesses are, different cancers, do you know what I mean? So… she’s been with every one of us all the way. Every one.

David had brilliant support from his family and his wife was a ‘brick’. He knew that his cancer...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52

At the time when you were going through it, what sort of support did you get from your family?

Brilliant. Oh yeah. I mean they’ll say, it takes a strong family to get through it, because you do go through hell, you know partners and the family go through hell, but there isn’t a lot of support for them, and certainly they’re never mentioned really. You know it’s horrible for them as well. They go through everything apart from the treatment. But they see- luckily we have a strong marriage, that’s what pulled us through, there is a lot of partners that disappear, but yeah, she’s a brick. Honestly is.
What sort of things did they do, that you found supportive?
I got left off washing up for a week or two. (Laughter.) No she’s there to listen to you when you’re down. They’ve seen me low, I mean they’ve seen me at rock bottom. You know they’ve seen me angry. You lose a lot of temper - frustration. It’s frustration through not finding answers, and just- it’s just so alienating, with the breast cancer or it was then I said, may be different now, I don’t look into it the same, as I used to. It’s like anything isn’t it, further away you get it’s- the memory’s still there but it gets easier. So, it does get easier too. And you’ve got to, just get easier, simple as. It’s horrible at the time, but yeah. 
So was it sort of practical support and emotional support, or just-?
Both. Yeah, yeah. Just support in general I think, just being there. You know you need a, yeah. [wife will] probably tell you better than I. I mean she put it down, it’s not him, it’s treatment. It’s just how he’s feeling at that moment, you know. Which is I suppose a lot.
So it was really them that got the full force of the- whatever you were feeling?
That’s right. You always pick on your loved ones don’t you. Nearest and dearest always catch everything. It’s horrible. It’s just- yeah. It’s not me. It’s changed me. I used to be a nice placid guy but, I’m not anymore, I’m- no. I don’t know if it is that or if it’s- you know as they say, everything gets blamed on it.. 
Some men also talked about the support they received from their children and grandchildren. For a few men, it was their adult children who accompanied them to hospital appointments or looked after them after their surgery and during treatment. Some men also said that just talking to their children and knowing that they were there for them was a great source of comfort to them. A couple of men also talked about being moved by their grandchildren’s efforts to support and comfort them.

Eddie’s children were very supportive. His son was really helpful in driving him to and from...

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 69

And you mentioned that you had a son, did you tell your son quite soon after you’d been diagnosed or-?

Yes, the whole family were made aware of it. In fact he’s been- they’ve been extremely supportive as well, obviously. I have two daughters and a son, and four grandchildren. So they’ve been very supportive. But, yeah, my son in actual fact was there for transport and when dropping my, or bringing my wife home when I went into hospital, so things like that and…
Yes, that’s very-
He’s always there. He’s always there.
That’s a nice way to speak about your- your children.
Well yes, it’s absolutely right. But… They’re always there. But we’re not the closest of families by any stretch of the imagination, everybody’s got their own lives now. I mean they’re in their forties, all three of them are now in their forties. My younger daughter was forty last weekend. So. Or the weekend before last I should say. So, they’ve all got their lives to live, their children and all that sort of thing, grandchildren we do… we don’t see each other perhaps as much as we should, considering they don’t- two of them live in [place] and one of them lives in [place] I mean I see more of my son in actual fact, than anybody else.
You must’ve ??…
Yeah. He was very. Well, when I use the word handy I don’t mean that again in a flippant way, but it was…thankfully necessary that he was close by. You know when- for transport and things like that. I couldn’t have driven, obviously (laughs.).
Just a few men, however, did not have good family support. For example, one man had a difficult relationship with his mother and felt totally unsupported by her during his treatment. Another man, who only occasionally saw his sisters and brothers, said that they ignored him at a family funeral after his diagnosis.
Most men also said that friends and colleagues had been supportive. Some appreciated it when their friends acted ‘normally’ with them, or made them laugh, or showed that they were ‘there for them’ in some other way.

Steve had fantastic support from family, friends and colleagues. He told his colleagues as soon...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 58
And, yeah, the support was fantastic, really.
That’s great.
And again, my family rallied round, and I was looked after very well by my son and daughter, and my other friends. I mean, they just, you know, endless queues of people coming to see me, so that was nice.
That’s really nice. It’s great to feel that kind of support at these difficult times.
Yeah the support factor, yeah but I mean, they can’t do anything apart from be there for you, I mean, that’s what the important thing is.
Yeah. So at what stage did you tell your son and daughter?
I didn’t want to do it over the phone. I wanted to speak to them in person. So, my son I knew was working that day, on the day of the diagnosis. It was quite weird, cos I was actually in work at the time, in the same hospital. So I actually went from the clinic up to my workplace, and I had to tell them, I mean they knew I was going in for something, and that was extremely emotional. That was... quite emotional.
Because you’d just received such a huge piece of news. And were they – they were all sort of waiting for you to come back, pretty much, were they?
Well, they were quite shocked – as I was, I think –I was more, more shocked at trying to tell them. It was very – I just couldn’t get the words out. I was, you know, sort of quite – unlike me – I was quite quiet. It was only a small group of the, my immediate crew.
It sounds like you haven’t had very long to kind of prepare how to say, how to actually say it.
No, it was quite difficult, yeah. But the support was fantastic, you know. they did all the sort of groundwork for me, they made sure, you know, we’ve got quite a big department of people, so when – I stayed in work all day. I didn’t think I would, but I did. But they disseminated the information around quite quickly.
And were you pleased not to actually have to keep on telling people over and over again yourself?
Yeah. At that – on that day, on that day, it was quite difficult to deal with it, I think. Reflecting on it. But once I’d said to my crew, you know, I had breast cancer, that was the wow factor for them. And then, we got over it, and, you know – yeah. It was just emotional. 


Some colleagues and employers had done things to make returning to work easier.

Derek’s manager and workmates were very supportive when he went back to work. His colleagues...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57

You were obviously working at the time you had your diagnosis.

I was.
So was there financial implications of you and your diagnosis?
I got paid through my work. I fortunately got full pay for x amount of months. I weren’t off that long.
Were you not?
No. I weren’t off that long. They put me on… obviously I’m a driver, I’ve been driving most of me life. So it was mainly light stuff but in my job there was no light stuff. You either picked a bag of goods up or you didn’t, simple as that. You know, some jobs are like that, aren’t they? There’s no easy way out or… but the men and people were excellent. If they saw me doing out… I’ll do that for you. Very supportive, the management, my old transport manager, need anything at all just come and see me and I did and he was excellent with me. They were very good, yeah.
However, a couple of men had very little support from family and friends and had got through the experience on their own.
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Interview 07 has good friends but most didn't come to see him when he was getting treatment...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 53
So if you’ve no family supports, who have you got supporting you?
Me [laughs].
Just you. Have you not got any good friends?
Aye, I’ve got good friends but… they cannae look at me that thin ken, they cannae handle it, ken what I mean? It’s me that’s going through the treatment and they cannae handle it, they can’t understand, aye. I have got another mate now, I kent him years ago but I wasnae his pal then, but his mum died of cancer and he’s mair… ken, he’ll come in and that, ken what I mean?
Right, he’s not scared.
No, he’s no scared
Of coming in and seeing you…
No, nothing, ken what I mean? I’m alright now. Know what I mean, a lot of people come in now, but when it comes back they’ll all go away, they just cannae handle it.

Last reviewed June 2017. Donate to healthtalk.org
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