Preparing for Breast Cancer: How Men Cope After Partner’s Treatment

There is an abundance of research examining the psychological effects of breast cancer diagnoses and treatment on women. There is less research on how the treatment of this potentially life-threatening disease affects the men who care about them. In a recent study, Beth E. Meyerowitz of the University of Southern California assessed how 164 men adjusted to their lives and relationships four and eight months after their partners completed breast cancer treatment. Meyerowitz examined whether psychological preparedness would improve adjustment levels and whether pre-cancer expectations of life after treatment would affect coping and adjustment.

By looking at the men’s moods, qualities of life, and cancer-derived stress, Meyerowitz discovered that preparation was the key to successful adjustment. She found that at both time points, the men who were better prepared prior to treatment had more stable levels of adjustment following treatment. The men who were less prepared to handle the ups and downs of post-treatment life had dramatic improvements in adjustment at the four-month and eight-month points, but their levels were still significantly lower than those found among the men who were psychologically prepared for post-treatment challenges.

One of the biggest influences on poor adjustment was the presence of intrusive negative thoughts relating to the illness. Specifically, the men who adjusted poorly reported having high levels of fearful and worrisome thoughts after treatment. This finding demonstrates the importance of early preparation in order to increase men’s coping skills after treatment. Meyerowitz pointed out that the narrow preparedness scale and the lack of help-seeking behavior exploration may have limited the scope of the current research. However, she believes that these findings shed light on an important yet unrealized factor. “Patients’ medical treatments were not associated with partner adjustment,” Meyerowitz said. “It was being prepared, a potentially modifiable factor, that was predictive.”

Meyerowitz, B. E., Christie, K. M., Stanton, A. L., Rowland, J. H., Ganz, P. A. (2012). Men’s adjustment after their partners’ complete treatment for localized breast cancer. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029245

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  • Amy H

    Amy H

    September 5th, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    I’m sorry but is there really any prep that you can do for breast cancer? I guess that if you are talking about treatment for breast cancer, then yes there can be some preparation ahead of time, like what you can expect and how they will feel during and after treatment. But other than that I think that a lot of it is about finding out on nyour own. I think that a lot of men after their wives or partners are diagnosed are so scared that they almost shut down and that is not good for anyone! Women dealing with this need to have a partner who is willing to stand by them when the going gets tough so that they know that they have the love and support that they need to get through all of this.

  • sharla


    September 5th, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    My dad had a very hard time adjusting to life with my mom after she had breast cancer and a radical mastectomy.

    It’s not like he idealized the breasts or anything, I think he was just so scared of losing her or hurting her afterwards that his way of dealing was to go completetly inside himself.

    He did not fall out of love with her, in fact I think it made him love her more, but he always had a hard time after that showing that to her.

  • Lacie


    September 6th, 2012 at 1:10 AM

    While mental preparation would be advantageous, no doubt, I wonder how many people actually receive this preparation before treatment from professionals.Unless proper channel are provided then most people would not be are of these things and would eventually end up with stress from the treatment.

  • Jenella


    September 6th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    Shouldn’t we be thinking about preparing the women for the treatment instead of the men?

  • John


    September 7th, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Jenella, it’s not an either or proposition. My wife is a four year survivor and frankly if I had coped better early on things would have been easier on both her and the kids. There’s a little more to it than just sucking it up and being there to hold her hand. Life goes on around you with all it’s stressors, and treatment isn’t over after chemo and radiation. Looking after yourself lets you do a better job of looking after your wife.

  • shane


    September 6th, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    how does someone prepare for an illness in his partner? if you are talking about the extra responsibilities or having an ill partner then that’s common with all health problems.what is so specific about breast canceR? am I missing something here?



    September 6th, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    shane, i think what’s mentioned here is being prepared mentally and being supportive of your partner who has suffered from the illness. Breast cancer and the period after the treatment can be really hard for the victim and it would need a lot of care and concern from the partner.Not only that but also being able to control your own emotions and understanding the nature of the illness and the changes after the treatment are very important things and those definitely get the required highlight in this article.

  • Patrick hanes

    Patrick hanes

    September 6th, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    If men are not given some guidance on how to manage their own feelings, then how are we supposed to effectively be able to step in and help our spouse when she is confronting the disease.

    We need a few pointers on how to effectively listen and offer support when we feel like there is nothing else that we can do. Train us to be the pep leaders, the encourager, the counselor, any role that we need to undertake to make this all just a little more bearable.

  • Austin


    September 7th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    There are so many valuable resources that cancer centers across the country can offer you access to. The thing that I have noticed with many men, however, is that many men refuse to ask for help with coping even when they so obviously need it. They are afraid that this will make them look weak, and the last thing that they want to do in front of their partner at this point is to look weak. They want to have this facade of strngth even when they are feeling so weak inside.

  • Jenella


    September 8th, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Yes, John, I get that. But if more men were taking care of all of that all along then it wouldn’t be that big of a deal when something like this comes up. All I am saying is that many men act like this is happeneing to them, and I know that you want to be there with your partner through everything, maybe all we really do need right then and there is for you to hold our hand and assure us that everything will be okay. How could someone not experiencing the disease and the treatment hurt more from it than the one who is?

  • sullivan


    September 10th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    My husband was so great when I was in radiation and chemo that I can’t say enough wonderful things about him. He always made us all laugh even when feeling my worst and you don’t know how much I appreciated those smiles that he was able to get from me when I was feeling my absolute worst!

    This is a lot for anyone to handle, and none of us should be judged or chastised for how we handle it. We are all different and process everything in a different way. They come around, I promise. Just be vocal about what you need and I promise that is this is a man who loves you then he will do anything that he can to make sure that you get it.

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