‘She won’t be a real woman anymore’

THE breasts for most men are eroticised, but when the woman they love develops breast cancer, this highly favoured part of the female anatomy quickly transforms from being the source of pleasure to worry for some men.

There is no denying the emotional and physical trauma felt by the woman who bears the dreaded news, but for a man who has spent a lifetime buffering his woman from the ills of society, it can be just as traumatic. Feelings of inadequacy start to set in when he realises there is not much he can do to change the diagnosis, especially if it is far advanced. Feelings of hopelessness also follow, along with extreme frustration, stress, anxiety and guilt — yes guilt. That’s because among his jumbled thoughts, there is oftentimes a deep seated concern about how the loss of his wife’s breast (s) is going to affect his sex life.

“Some of them pretend that they are not affected, but it affects all of them. In many instances, they don’t know about the disease and they feel that the woman is not going to be a full woman anymore and sex wise, they wonder if it will have any effects.” explained Elite Sellars-Wright, chairman of Reach to Recovery, a breast cancer survivors group which provides moral and emotional support to women.

She believes it is this immense fear and uncertainty that leads some men to desert their wives when they find out they have cancer. “But after a while, after the initial stages like around three years or so, they come around and kind of get over it, (although) it is not all of them,” Sellars-Wright said.

She said men are affected in different ways, but for the most part, most have concerns about losing their wives. She was keen to point out that some of these fears are experienced also when a woman has cervical and other forms of cancers.

Despite the emotional turmoil experienced by men, Sellars-Wright explained that men do not usually seek counselling to deal with the issue.

“They will be eaten up inside, but they are not going to say it, because it is not macho. Sometimes they are more worried than the woman, but they try to suppress it,” she said.

This is the way some men we polled responded when asked how they would respond to their woman’s breast cancer diagnosis.

Paul, married for 10 years:

I would feel devastated, but it wouldn’t be anything that we can’t get over, because of the treatment now available. People have been treated successfully if detected early. In the worse case scenario, if she happens to lose one breast or both, that wouldn’t make her less of a woman. You just know that you have to be strong and be there for her in all of that. You would fear that you would lose the person but that’s not something you will dwell on. As it relates to losing the breast, it would probably be weird at first, but I don’t think I would be turned off, because the breast is not the person. As long as the other parts are still working, I will be alright.

Colin, married for one year:

I would try to help her get the treatment for it. I would be sad because I would feel that she is going to die. I would start to think about the cost for the treatment, but I know I would have to find the money. Of course I would also think about our sex life, but I would just have to work with her and try and think about her health instead.

Carlos, married for eight years:

I would find out the best possible solution to get rid of the cancer and if she is concerned about her breast, then I would try to find out about breast implants. I would research everything about breast cancer, because I would honestly want to save her breast as much as possible. The economic factor is real and you are going to have to face it. I would try to shoulder the burden.

Michael, married for seven years:

I would support her as much as possible, because it is a very devastating thing as it affects her physically and also her psyche. I would fear that it would reach stage four and she dies, but personally, I don’t think it would affect our romantic lives much.

Vivian, married 14 years:

Of course I’d worry about our sex lives after the initial shock of the diagnosis wears off. Will she be a real woman anymore? How will she look? Will I still be attracted to her? It would only be natural to have these thoughts, anyone would. But of course I’d also stick by her — she’s my wife. But it’s normal to have questions and reservations about how things will change.

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