Spouses of breast cancer survivors hold on to hope

August 1, 2012, University of Alberta

(Edmonton) Male partners of breast cancer patients are likely to take a pass on spousal support groups in favour of exercise or an evening out with friends to cope with stresses associated with the disease, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

Faculty of Nursing professor Wendy Duggleby said of women with have unique needs when it comes to retaining a sense of at a time when they provide important physical and for their partners.

"There are many programs out there for women, but for men a lot of support mechanisms are support groups, and it was very clear from the participants in our study that's not what they wanted," said Duggleby, Endowed Chair in Aging and Quality of Life.

"What these spouses needed was help finding ways to do things for themselves to help reduce their stress."

The study, published in this month's Oncology Nursing Forum, is the first to look at the hope experience of male spouses of , said Duggleby. Ensuring men have a sense of hope not only helps decrease their risk for depression, it helps their partners, too.

"If their husbands lose hope, the wives are really, really worried about them and they often lose hope themselves. For women with breast cancer, it actually helps with their own quality of life if we can do something to help the men. It's very interconnected."

In the study, men in Edmonton and Saskatoon were surveyed about hope and their ability to cope with their spouses' disease. Many reported that their partner's diagnosis was their darkest day, and that they struggled to find hope and balance after juggling career, added household duties and care.

Fighting back

Warren Tasker called upon a fighter's will when his partner Gwen Borowski was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 1, 2007. He made Borowski's needs a priority and together they put everything toward the fight, learning all they could about the disease and pressing physicians to explain treatment in detail.

"It was all I thought about, night and day," said Tasker, an Edmonton-based writer and editor, who wrote about the experience for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Prairies/NWT chapter.

After years of writing about boxing for the Edmonton Journal, he took up the sport to cope with stress, in addition to his regular running and cycling routine.

"I was getting hit and I was getting to hit back. It felt good—it felt really good," he said. "You need an outlet, you need to find something to release all the pent-up frustration, the fear, the apprehension, the anxiety."

In study interviews, filmed and posted online, spouses reported similar experiences, turning to exercise, music, hobbies and time away with friends to find balance. Many expressed a strong desire to be able to talk to or hear from other spouses who went through similar struggles—without taking time from work or family to attend , Duggleby said.

Work schedules also presented challenges with attending medical appointments with their spouses to hear information first-hand, which was another strong need spouses expressed.

"If you're a working man, it becomes difficult to go to some appointments, although some of that is just perception. They're not being excluded but they feel like they're being excluded. It's part of breaking down some of those barriers in cancer care," said Duggleby.

Duggleby said the findings should help health-care providers and agencies provide the specific support and resources these men need. For many spouses, an easy solution would be a guide showing where to find online information about breast cancer without information overload.

"They really do want something that's specific for them, tailored for their needs. It doesn't have to be done through a research study. There is a lot that can be done just based on what these spouses said and the ideas they provided. It would make a huge, huge difference."

Explore further: Coming through cancer… together

Related Stories

Coming through cancer… together

November 10, 2011
The role that emotional support plays in helping a patient in their fight against breast cancer is to be examined as part of a year-long research project at The University of Nottingham.

Palliative care resource helps ease changes

May 8, 2012
An interactive toolkit created by a team from the University of Alberta helps palliative care patients and their care providers to deal with the physical, emotional and relationship changes that come with terminal and chronic ...

Recommended for you

Cancer patients who tell their life story find more peace, less depression

January 22, 2018
Fifteen years ago, University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher Meg Wise began interviewing cancer patients nearing the end of life about how they were living with their diagnosis. She was surprised to find that many asked ...

Single blood test screens for eight cancer types

January 18, 2018
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer.

Researchers find a way to 'starve' cancer

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to starve a tumor and stop its growth with a newly discovered small compound that blocks uptake of the vital ...

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.