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REFLECTIONS OF SOME TYPICAL
MEMBERS (AND PARTNERS)

The following statements were supplied voluntarily by members of Marin Man to Man and their partners. No one is required to "go public" via this web site, through our Speakers' Bureau or any other way, and all information discussed at the weekly meetings of our support group is considered to be confidential.


Marv Edelstein / Maria

marv and MariaMarv -- When my wife, Maria, was diagnosed with breast cancer, I remained the complete optimist -- throughout the myriad of tests, biopsies, etc.. There was no way that Maria had breast cancer; it just wasn't an option.

This bubble was burst by one look at the face of our friend, Ron, the pathologist who read the slides from her final biopsy.

The next few weeks were total chaos. Meetings with oncologists, treatment options, information overload, drug studies, panic, denial. Much of it remains little more than a blur. During that period we were joined at the hip, seeking information, making decisions, trying to keep our imaginations from going to dark places.

After what seemed like an eternity, all of the decisions had been made and Maria began treatment, which in her case consisted of a lumpectomy, chemotherapy (CAF) and radiation. Her life centered around those treatments and all of the side effects that came with it. She joined a support group, which proved to be a tremendous resource for her.

I soon found myself along the sidelines, wanting to help and be supportive, but becoming more and more frustrated by the inability to do anything, or worse yet to do anything right.

It was during this period that Bill Bowersock, whose wife was in the same support group as Maria, came up with the idea of starting a support group for men whose wives or partners had breast cancer. When I first heard about it, my immediate reaction was stereotypically male: Support group? I don't need no stinkin' support group. Fortunately, Bill was very persuasive, and not being able to come up with a legitimate reason to say no, I agreed to join in. That was over two decades ago, and I'm still making it to the weekly meeting. Believe me, it's not for the food.

My initial hesitation proved to be completely unwarranted. This wasn't the TV sitcom style group therapy session I dreaded; no one was going to ask "and how does that make you feel?" Instead, it was a group of guys who were (or had been) in the same place I was, complete with all of the unknowns, frustrations, worries, etc. It was a place to ask questions, get answers to questions I hadn't thought to ask, and find comfort in the realization that what I was experiencing was no different than what everyone else was going through.

It helped me get through one of the most difficult periods of my life, and continues to provide an outlet for fears that surface every time Maria experiences a strange pain or ailment, or a friend experiences a recurrence.

Maria -- In the beginning, my husband Marv, with some hesitation, thought it might be beneficial to talk with other men whose partners were going through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. As the years have ensued, Marv has continued as an ever-present member of Man to Man. His dedication to this group as a support and mentor to other men, as well as a recipient of ongoing, caring, safe, non-judgmental support, helps us in our life situations, whether breast cancer-related or not.

I can sincerely say that Man to Man has helped Marv and me through some really tough times when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and helped us be healing partners. We continue to be on a growing and healing journey and I honestly feel that his participation in Man to Man has helped enable us to continue in this direction.



John Teasley

John TeasleyJohn -- Mary, a co-worker many years ago, was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Being a Texas-bred male, I was taught to ask no personal questions nor show any emotions. I foolishly assumed that since Mary returned to work and looked OK, she would be fine. In casual encounters, we skirted any discussion of her illness, but she continued to stress her good health, strong family/friends' support, and she constantly exuded happiness. A couple of years later I received information on her funeral arrangements.

Chris, another co-worker of years past, was diagnosed and treated for skin cancer. We likewise skirted the health issues while maintaining a casual friendship. My wife Jill and I attended Chris and Peter's wedding. The love and devotion, probably increased by the cancer ordeal, was obvious and endearing.

But Jill awoke one morning with a pain in her breast. Not overly concerned (breast cancer does not hurt -- so they say), she called the doctor. "Not to worry," he said, "you probably strained something. Give it a couple of weeks." Two weeks later she was in for a needle biopsy, which proved inconclusive. Next came the surgical biopsy, delayed once, allowing us a very stressful Christmas holiday. The surgical results were conclusive -- breast cancer.

Friends provided support, as did family, although most of mine are still in Texas. Double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemo -- we survived them all and embarked on our new life.

Peter called one evening -- Chris had just passed away. I had no idea that she suffered a recurrence, but had kept them informed on Jill's situation. Chris had kept my notes about Jill at her bedside, constantly hoping for the best for Jill.

That did it -- I needed help coping, not with just Jill's survival, but also mine. Jill's support group knew about the Man to Man group, and told me about it. I swallowed my pride (Denny's, for God's sake) and went to my first breakfast. Small world that it is, the founder was Mary's brother.

Yes, it's a shaggy group. We discuss anything from current events; current "manly" projects around the house; and, of course, anything that may be surfacing as a result of our beloved survivors.

Has it helped me? YES. It has provided a sounding board for sensitive health issues and made me realize that I was not alone in my ordeal or fears.

Will it help you? I can't say, but you won't know unless you give it a chance. Jill finished chemo years ago, but we still cringe every time there is a new pain, bump or strange ailment.

Writing this re-ignited many of those scary feelings. See you next week, guys.

 

Woody Weingarten / Nancy Fox

nancy and woodyWoody -- "Nancy's all right but the tumor was cancerous," said the surgeon.

"Oh, God," I thought. "Why her? Why her?"

I couldn't cry. I couldn't scream. I wanted to do both.

"We believe we got it all," said the doctor, later indicating we could expect at least one more operation -- the removal of lymph nodes.

It would be a while before I'd learn about the unholy cancer treatment trio, "slash, poison and burn."

When she first undraped her right breast for me a little later, I stiffened. The lumpectomy gash extended several inches. I inspected it with my eyes, afraid to touch it lest a microbe on my fingertips infect the wound. After staring for a few seconds, I relaxed. "If that's the worst that'll happen, we're lucky as hell," I said.

But I was scared.

My anxiety directed me to this men's group, Marin Man to Man, a unique drop-in support club for guys whose partners have breast cancer.

It quickly met its promises to be "a sympathetic forum to discuss and understand the challenge for the man to be supportive and loving, and to reassure the woman that both she and their relationship are likely to survive."

Most of all, I liked that there was no facilitator.

And common problems, I found, can activate bonding.

Nance labeled her first chemo session "the hardest day I've ever had in my life." It wasn't exactly my easiest. I felt as if a kickboxer had launched a full-strength attack on my stomach.

But the men in this support group understood every nuance, and were there to listen to my inner scaredy-cat.

Later, the first of 33 radiation days gorged us with emotion.

My stomach became a volcano near the point of discharging its lava.

Again, as always, the members of Marin Man to Man were there to allay my fears.

Our dues-free, facilitator-less meetings usually corralled fewer participants than could be counted on the fingers of one hand, mainly because most men apparently are hesitant to share their insecurities, to admit they can't fix everything, to shed their machismo.

But whenever I become frustrated because more men don't seek the help they obviously need, frustrated because of the large number of guys who came once or twice and never showed up again, the words of the group's founder reassured me. "Those who drop in and don't come back," he said wisely, "take whatever they need and get support elsewhere."

And then, of course, there are the "lifers," the stalwarts who stay in Marin Man to Man year after year, to aid and comfort others the way they themselves once were helped.


My updated "Rollercoaster" manuscript needs an agent to market it, or a publisher who knows such a book can benefit both male caregivers and their partners. Anyone interested in talking with me about it should call (415) 459-3434.


Nancy -- Since my bout with cancer sucked up all of my energy, physically and psychologically, I know I was not "available" in many ways to comfort my husband, a role I generally assume as his wife.

I was too scared, hurting, focused on my own healing, schedules, aches and pains to deal with "how it was for him." I just wanted him to be there. And he was.

I should have known he was equally frightened, but I didn't.

I should have known he needed to talk about it, but I was the wrong audience.

I should have been able to be there for his concerns, but I wasn't. I was too wrapped up in my own.

There were even times when he accompanied me to my chemotherapy sessions that I wished he weren't there. I didn't want him to see it. I didn't want to worry about his reactions to what was going on. And I couldn't even tell him that at the time, because I didn't want to hurt him, since he was being so sweet and loving.

So when we found out about Marin Man to Man, I was thrilled. Elated. Beside myself. A place for him to go. A place to vent with "the guys." A place for him to articulate all the stuff that was swirling around in his introspective head.

And, it turned out, it was also a place for him to help other men who were going through the same thing with their wives and partners.

I know he looks forward to these breakfast meetings. He rarely misses them.

Woody needs the outlet. He needs the guys. He needs the place to say, "I was really scared, and I understand your fear. Here's what worked for me."

Other men who are going through it need him -- an emotional, expressive guy who's not afraid to say, "I was scared."

Come to think of it, maybe he still is.

 

Dan Goltz / Carol

Dan -- It was Christmas Eve. Carol and I were busily preparing for a dinner party. Son David and his wife's family were our guests. Five p.m., everything was ready, and Carol was ready to dress for the party. The phone rang. Carol answered it. She greeted the caller, and then listened to her oncologist tell her, "You have one positive lymph node."

What a night. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new phase in our life. The lumpectomy, node dissection, chemo and radiation hit like a tornado, whirling us into a terrible depression. Carol suffered the pain and discomfort, but I felt the ever-present fear that my wonderful wife could die. It was devastating.

After months of my depression, Carol told me about Marin Man to Man. Knowing that I was not a joiner, she urged me to see what it was all about. I knew that I needed to do something, so a couple of Wednesdays later, I showed up at Denny's full of apprehension about meeting new people I assumed would be as miserable as I was.

But it wasn't that way at all. Since I had called ahead, they were expecting me, and they gave me a warm welcome. To my surprise, I was able to talk freely about how I felt. The other men listened, asked questions and gave me advice. They were warm and friendly, giving me my first gleam of hope that maybe things could turn out OK.

I was sold on this new experience of telling people how I felt about a very intimate and personal problem.

Over the years, I have seldom missed "our feast," as John Teasley calls it. That is a good description of these few hours we get together. We enjoy a feast of ideas, humor, caring, comradeship and support.

Years after our first experience with breast cancer, Carol had a second bout — not a recurrence but a whole new strain. I'm a big baseball fan so it was natural for me to think, "Wow, this is like playing a doubleheader. But we were able to win the first one, so we should be able to win this one, too." And we did.

Marin Man to Man helped me live through a very low point and my life. But more importantly, I have made wonderful lasting friendships.

Carol -- From the moment Dan learned of my diagnosis, he apparently took charge of his own emotions and became my staunchest ally. He accompanied me to doctors' appointments, waited patiently during my lumpectomy, and even brought roses to me in the outpatient surgical ward. He was there for the radical node dissection, he was my buddy for each chemotherapy session, and he made sure everything was being done correctly for the beginning radiation sessions.

However, he must have felt isolated during those times; after all, I was getting all the attention and he really had no one else in whom to confide. One day as I was leaving my radiation appointment, I noticed a flyer for meetings of a group with husbands with wives with breast cancer. Now, Dan had never been in a support group, but I thought he might consider this one. And what a surprise; he went to the very next meeting, and has continued going regularly every week.

He found great support, and discovered to his delight that the guys didn't spend all their time moaning about their wives. He came home full of juicy tidbits about the lives of these hitherto-unknown men, and clearly was buoyed by contacts with them. Eventually one of the wives suggested a pot-luck dinner so the wives could meet each other also, and that evening was a night to remember. We could laugh at the same grotesque jokes, and realized once again that we were not alone.

Dan has made close friends in the group, and so have I. I can't think of a more healing process for any man whose wife or partner has breast cancer. Friendly and genuine group support just takes all the fear out of the situation, and, hey -- if guys want to talk about sports or cars or politics, that's also great support.

 

John Sundberg

John SundbergJohn -- The Marin Man to Man support group for men whose wives have breast cancer entered my life one Wednesday morning just before my wife, Carol, was to begin chemotherapy for inflammatory breast cancer, an extremely aggressive form.

Before breakfast arrived, I asked the group what chemotherapy was really like. I wanted to know their experiences. What I heard scared me so much I could hardly breathe, much less eat my breakfast.

They told me what I needed to hear, what no one else could. I really appreciated their honesty. I needed to stop living in the "it's not happening to me" world and face the reality of chemotherapy and breast cancer, so that I could be there to support my wife.

This healthy dose of reality helped me accept the fact that the cancer Carol had would change our lives forever. And I realized that we only had four days left before the chemo would begin. I took the next four days off from work and spent them with Carol getting ready for the treatment and the side effects.

But we also spent time together just holding each other, walking on the beach, and talking about our hopes and dreams together. When chemotherapy started, our lives were never the same again.

The battle against Carol's breast cancer was horrendous. She went through multiple chemo treatments, a mastectomy, and numerous radiation treatments for about a year and a half.

During this time I continued to attend my breakfast support group once a week. I needed the companionship, hope and reality provided by the group, who had all been through many of the same experiences I was going through.

The group had good ideas about medical treatments and opinions about local doctors and hospitals.

Best of all, I could just be myself in the group. I could be discouraged, frustrated or angry, and it was OK. One of the members of the group even came to sit with me in the hospital during Carol's mastectomy.

Unfortunately, the treatments were unsuccessful and Carol died. The group was there with me at Carol's memorial service. And I kept going to the weekly breakfasts for several years. They invited me to their homes for dinner, and helped me begin to feel alive again.

I subsequently moved to the country and took an early retirement from work. I do not make it to the weekly morning breakfasts any longer. But once or twice a year, I attend.

This group of courageous men helped me find the courage and strength to make it through an extremely difficult battle with breast cancer and the loss of Carol. I feel very fortunate to have had this support group and to have known these special guys.

 

Gerry Bourguignon

Gerry BourguignonI had noticed a small lump in my right breast. It was a bit uncomfortable and not going away. Fortunately, my primary care physician was very aware that breast cancer can occur in men; and, after carefully examining my breast, he ordered a mammogram to be done as soon as possible.

The mammogram indicated that the lump was “suspicious,” which meant it should be biopsied. The biopsy showed that the cells in the lump were abnormal (i.e. cancer cells), which meant that surgical removal was necessary.

Successful surgery (a modified mastectomy) was performed at Marin General Hospital by a superb breast surgeon (Dr. Cheryl Ewing). The tumor was completely removed, and there was no spread of the cancer cells to the nearby lymph nodes.

A special test for predicting recurrence of breast cancer (Oncotype Dx) was run on my tumor tissue; to my great relief, the results of this test indicated a very low probability of cancer recurrence — without chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

My oncologist then recommended that I take Tamoxifen for five years to inhibit any cancer cells that might have escaped into my body. After taking it for 18 months, increasingly painful side effects caused me to discontinue. Apparently, the side effects are generally worse for men compared to women.

Now I feel OK physically, but have felt rather “alone” regarding how to deal with my situation as a cancer survivor. There is, unfortunately, very little information and support available for men with breast cancer. About a year ago I became aware of a support group for men whose spouses are dealing with, or have dealt with, breast cancer. Upon inquiring about attending one of their meetings, I was warmly welcomed, and have been attending their weekly breakfast meetings as often as my schedule allows.

The group is informal, non-judgmental and very supportive regarding all types of issues that men face regarding cancer. I strongly recommend that any man dealing with cancer (either his or his spouse’s) consider joining Marin Man to Man. It can make a significant difference in how well one copes with the problems that arise when confronted with this disease.

 
       
       
   

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