Everyone’s cancer story is unique. How you react to the news of a cancer diagnosis, how you choose to share the journey with family and friends, how you tolerate the treatments and what you do when treatment is over are parts of your own story. There are some common threads amongst us all, and there are categories we belong to that have an impact as well. Gender is one of those differences. While men and women walk their cancer journey side by side, their sex can play a role.
Loss of control
Most cancer patients talk about feeling a lack of control over their destiny – doctor’s telling them we need to do surgery NOW, or “we have to start chemotherapy right away”. While men and women both see this as a source of stress, men are much more likely to struggle with the decisions being made all around them. Men are socialized to be in control at all times, in all situations. So, a serious medical condition can push those buttons, and cause them to chafe against the restraints being imposed. There is the long-standing joke about men not asking for directions when they are lost. Imagine feeling lost in the medical maze and not feeling comfortable asking for help. Men even have difficulty accepting help when it is freely offered. When the tasks men are used to doing at home or work become too much, you may see tempers flare. The Gathering Place can help men dealing with this loss of control, teaching them to breathe in yoga, to share in a group, to accept what is.
Desire to fix things
When things go wrong at home or work, many men are excited to dig in and fix. They brainstorm tools and techniques and jump in, even if they don’t ‘measure twice and cut once’! When women share their bad day at work with the men in their life, they usually want him to listen attentively and soothe them. More often, men are quick to rattle off ideas of what to say to who and when. When men are dealing with cancer, there are so many things they can’t fix which adds dramatically to their stress levels. They desperately want things to be OK again, but it may be many many months before they begin to feel like themselves again. At The Gathering Place men can learn specific things that they CAN fix – they can take our plant-based cooking classes to aid in their recovery, they can join an exercise class to help their body heal faster.
Speaking of wanting things fast! Men are known for wanting what they want NOW. There are so many times during the cancer journey that men have to wait - for doctors to return calls, for pathology to come back, for incisions to heal, for blood work to come back up so chemo can be administered. Even when they are finished with cancer treatment men are in such a hurry to feel tiptop again. If a doctor says they should be able to resume normal activities in a month, men will try at two weeks. If they doctor says wait three months, men will try at three weeks! Even if trying means their recovery is set back, they will push the limits. At The Gathering Place men can work on patience in the garden where organic vegetables cannot be hurried or in the art room where clay in the kiln cannot be hurried without serious consequences. In support groups, men can hear from other men who are farther down the road in their recovery who share how long it took them.
Some cancers directly affect men’s sexuality: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, bladder cancer. Other cancers might not impact intimacy but the treatments do. Chemotherapies, surgery and radiation can all cause fatigue, lack of energy, lack of concentration, lowered libido. Women can have the same side effects, but in our culture men are more likely to link sexuality with who they are and their self-worth. At The Gathering Place, we readily discuss sexuality with compassion and sensitivity. We hold workshops for couples to discuss intimacy and strengthening their relationships and communication. In Prostate Partners, there are regular speaker who discuss the options to restore or replace the sexual function men are missing. Our libraries are stocked with helpful books and pamphlets on intimacy after cancer.
A cancer diagnosis may lead a man to retire early or change careers when he has identified himself with one career for a lifetime. A man may find out that he is less tolerant of pain than he thought, or has a shorter fuse than he or his loved ones would like. When men are faced with the basic philosophical question of “Who Am I?”, The Gathering Place has books, groups, classes, and counselors all to help men (and women!) figure out “what next”.
Consider joining us for our Group for Men with Cancer that meets on the 2nd Wednesday of each month from 6:30-8:00pm. The next meeting is Wednesday, November 13th in Beachwood.
Written by Eileen Coan, MA, MLS, our medical librarian. To contact our librarian – firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our about us page to learn more about Eileen Coan and all of our staff.