Holding Space for a Partner’s Needs When a Couple Confronts Breast Cancer

Black and white photo of group of 4 men smiling casually and looking straight at the camera.

Breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment impact both patients and their partners. Unfortunately, the latter are often overlooked in this process, despite the fact that tending to their needs benefits both the individual and the couple. Even the most communicative pairs often feel uncomfortable or uncertain when it comes to openly sharing their feelings about this experience. That is why NYBRA’s Patient Empowerment Program has created a safe, confidential environment for partners to come together, share their experiences with one another, and express their concerns in the Men’s Breakfast Meeting.

The Men’s Breakfast Meeting is a monthly virtual group for spouses and partners. This meeting gives them a space to speak openly, voice concerns, and learn from one another. Men are encouraged to engage long-term, as “veterans” (participants whose partners were diagnosed eight or more years ago) inspire “newbies” and share wisdom. This lively community frequently connects outside the group for sustained support.

As a medical team, we are committed to supporting partners as they learn how to listen to their mate’s feelings and fears, understand the various treatments, and discuss their level of involvement in the care surrounding the illness. I work with couples to help them reframe this challenging and often devastating experience as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and reassess priorities. In that work, it is essential to address both the physical and emotional needs of the couple. Men require support during this journey to cope with their feelings. These feelings may include fear of losing their partner, issues related to the change in their partner’s body, concerns about hurting their partner during intimate contact, and questions about how this diagnosis will impact their relationship long-term.

If you are a partner, significant other, or spouse, take advantage of this unique opportunity to gain valuable insights! Even if you can only join us for part of the meeting, we highly recommend dropping in. Participants rave about the impact this group has had on their lives.

Read on for reflections that come directly from attendees.

“The men’s breakfast is so very important for many reasons. It is a judgment-free zone for men to express their concerns and fears while fostering conversation and support for one another. The ‘veterans’ share their experience from their journey and gain so much insight from those that are going through treatment now. Once the meeting ends it gives moments of self-reflection, hope, and renewed inspiration to want to pay it forward to those on their journey.

This journey is one of the most difficult experiences a married couple will go through in their life. Mental healing begins post trauma and treatment, on the days when the phone stops and friends/family are busy living their lives. The men’s breakfast is one of many things that help toward the healing and rebuilding process. Mollie is truly a blessing for her hard work and dedication in the healing and living aspect of this journey.” —John Mannara

“The Men’s Breakfast Meeting is a unique opportunity to converse with other men sharing a common experience. It is an outlet to openly express myself, while absorbing the concerns, suggestions, solutions, and wisdom of others. We are simply fortunate to be guided by an amazing moderator, who has an immense experience, outstanding insight, and the most understanding, friendly, delicate personal approach. Looking forward to the monthly meeting, I’m continually reminded to keep the world around me in perspective.

The meetings establish the recognition that here is a point in life where we, as spouses, are most needed—unequivocally more than anybody else. It’s as simple as that. It is always encouraging to see so many men drop their ego in support of the one who, some time ago, agreed to marry them. By interacting with Mollie and the guys, we learn to adapt to a challenging, possibly unintelligible, reality. We are gradually gaining the fortitude to keep moving forward. For people who are not used to talking about medical or personal matters, the group exposure is a newly found source of strength building, showing that there is a post-traumatic growth. It is gratifying to be able to give some advice to people who are about to embark on this journey.”—Ben Kadishon

“I find the Men’s Breakfast Meetings to be a way of giving back for the insights and perspectives I have learned through my wife’s nine year breast cancer journey. It is a scary journey, full of uncertainties and questions. Having been through this experience, I’m grateful for the help and support we’ve received so it’s only natural to give back by trying to support others embarking on the journey.

As a ‘veteran,’ I’ve learned a lot (and continue to learn and/or refresh my learning) about how to be an active listener, how to understand my wife’s internal struggles, and how to be the best support mechanism I can be.

In reality for me, attending the meetings is a lot more than “giving back.” It’s a refreshing remembrance of all that I’ve learned about myself and my wife from this process. While cancer is in our ‘rearview mirror,’ we have reevaluated our priorities and look forward to a robust future.”—A. D.

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