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The Emotional Myth ????

Posts: 4
Joined: Jun 2008

It seems that the popular idea is that men just can't seem to give the "emotional" support that is necessary when their partners are diagnosed with cancer....and from recent personal experience, this tends to be true. My daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2007, went through initial Induction treatment in an isolation room for 44 days, had a 3wk break and then attended the Day Centre on a daily basis for chemo transfusions, etc. for a month, another break and then went to the Day Centre again for a solid month for more chem transfusions - went into remission - and has now started her 2 year programme of cancer tablets as a final consolidation.

While her husband was crushed and "said all the right things" .....he simply couldn't - or "wouldn't" (the jury is still out on that one)...follow through. During the height of the initial intense induction treatments that were given in hospital - his visits were for a few hours in the afternoon, where he either read the paper or played a Mario Brothers game (he's in his 40's)...never chatted with her...or gave her his "attention"....refused to "stay over night" when she became anxious in the midst of all the pain and drugs...."he doesn't like hospitals".

Basically, he's a wonderful, loving man and has stated quite firmly that he'd "die for his family".....which I assume he really means, as long as he doesn't have to go near a hospital to do it.

I'm tired of hearing..."everyone handles things in their own way"......"men can't seem to relate and show their emotions"...."he's doing the best he can"......

I wonder who started all these sayings????

You know, I've come to the conclusion that it's an easy copout.....I think that men have heard it so much, that they've actually relinquished any responsibility in actually "DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT".

In our case, it was his mother and motherinlaw who stepped up to the plate - she made excuses for him and I nursed my daughter through 35 of those drug ridden, fever glazed, anxiety soaring nights....coaxed her through the rigors, helped her to the bathroom, kept an eye on her drug dosages and actually TALKED TO THE NURSES AND DOCTORS gleaning any information I could to pass on for future reference.

Even the NURSES, who are used to "dealing with husbands" became distressed by his actions - or inaction - the social worker was amazed at my daughter's resilience and fortitude throughout it all.

My point is.....he really does love her.
He really does know that he "let her down". His own words...through all those initial treatments.
BUT....it hasn't "changed" his behaviour at all.

No emotional support, some practical with laundry and bathing the 3 little ones....but he used to do that at times anyway, on days when it suited him - no medals should be handed out here - so if he KNOWS - how do we jump start him into actually DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT???

Personally I'd like to strangle him and move on...however....I love him very much.

I've suggested counselling, which my daughter is in the process of arranging today - for both of them - together - dealing specifically with the "leukemia" and how it has affected both of them.....she's revealed to me that she has hit a plateau....that the "resentment" has finally surfaced and she can barely look at him.

Today is her birthday - he forgot.
You'd think he'd have been thankful she was still here to celebrate?

Poor MEN....the poor things, to be burdened to go through life having to LIVE UP TO THE STANDARD OF INEPTNESS IN THE EMOTIONAL DEPARTMENT that has so "funnily and cutely" been laid out for them over the years.

Too handy...too convenient...too pathetic.....

Time to grow up, take responsibility for their lives and actions and get on with it.

Whew! I feel better now :O)

Posts: 288
Joined: May 2003

I am glad you feel better after venting and that you didn't strangle your son-in-law!

Perhaps it has become a cliche that men just can't give the emotional support necessary when the wife is diagnosed with cancer. The fact is that cancer is very scary to both the patient and his/her family.

Many husbands, and sometimes the wives, don't do much because not only they are afraid but also they do not know what to do.

Not all men are incapable of giving support and not all are insensitive to the needs of the wife. Women are the same way. I've known some wives that not only didn't give emotional support to the husband with cancer but also divorced him as soon as he was out of treatment. I am a woman.

Perhaps we have the wrong expectations. Expecting the husband or wife to behave in a way we think is the proper way even though it is not in their personality. Just like expecting the husband to be romantic, getting upset when he is not, even though being romantic is not in his personality. Some men are also raised to think that it is not manly to cry or to show feelings.

Can't you tell your son-in-law how you need him to help? There is a big chance that he doesn't know and perhaps all he has heard has been complaints about what he didn't do.

He forgot his wife's birthday... hum... is it possible that he is so scared and in so much stress that he completely forgot? It happens.

arbrab's picture
Posts: 55
Joined: Nov 2007

I really hear where your coming from. When my husband was going through all his treatments for lung cancer, my oldest son came over or called every day to see how his dad was doing. Still crys at a drop of a hat today, because he misses his dad so much.
On the other hand, our youngest son hardly stopped by at all. I had to tell my daughter-in-law how things were going and she would relay the message. Even today he doesn't want to talk about his fathers death. But, yet his favorite picture in the world is the one we took of him and his dad about 2 weeks before he passed. I can't look at that picture. And the saddest part is that he realized to late that his HERO was his dad.
Ever man is different I guess. I was told that I was a very strong woman from alot of nurses. I never understood that until someone actually explained it to me. It seems that when the going gets tough alot of women walk out of the room and let the nurses take care of the problem what ever it may be. I happen to stay by my husbands side to the end. I hope that your daughter forgives her husband. People deal with things differently, right or wrong. Thank god she had other people to lean on in a time of crisis. All the friends that I thought we had dissapeard like the plaque. My daughter-in-laws came through for us.
I guess we all find out how strong we really are in a time of need. I was his caregiver for 2 1/2 years. We talked about hospice, but I guess we decided that it was our responceability not someone else's. Would I do it again. NO. I don't have the emotional or physical strength to do it again.
I hope that the counseling helps them both. It will be the only way that they can get through the rest of anything.
My blessings go out to you all

jel1940's picture
Posts: 31
Joined: Jun 2008

I was a hospice nurse for over ten years. People deal with death in their own ways. Some want to be at the bedside constantly, others distance themselves from the patient. Neither is right or wrong. Individuals have different coping mechanisms and need to be accepted for such. Which one is right...both! So often people criticize another at this time. This often is misplaced anger that their loved one is in the throes of death. This is not unusual. Others completely separate themselves from everything that is going on as their defense mechanism. The greatest challenge for me was trying to get everyone to accept everyone else's way of coping. These differences can tear apart a close knit family. It is a difficult issue as it is emotional and often not rational. Hope this helps a little.


terato's picture
Posts: 383
Joined: Apr 2002


I thought, because I had been a cancer patient myself, that I could better handle my own parents' illnesses, be more empathic and supportive. However, I only felt helpless and uncomfortable, feeling both useless and guilty for not doing more. It was much easier being a patient than dealing with patients in my own family!

Love and Courage!


Anonymous user (not verified)

WOW bonn, you're good.
I have seen some rants in my time but this one is B-U-TI-FUL.
Seriously. I hope your son in law and LOTS of other men read it (including my ex whom I lost to cancer....I had cancer and he got lost).
Well, anyhow, just wanted to tell you that you said what I have been thinking for a long time so now I feel better too....thanks.

soccerfreaks's picture
Posts: 2801
Joined: Sep 2006

First, let me say that despite the fact I'm a man, I enjoyed your 'rant'. You obviously have a sense of humor which poked out around the edges of your frustration from time to time, which is great self-therapy and makes for fine reading :).

Second, let me express my agreement with Tere and with arbab to some degree: everyone does, indeed, deal with this sort of trauma differently, and it is not only men who can be guilty of seeming indifference. At the same time, my own father is an excellent example of the other side of the coin, although I might argue that it took some age and wisdom to come to that point.

I would venture that his caregiving skills were not so great when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancers while they were in their early 30s. He did what he had to do, no doubt, but won no medals for sensitivity. However, when, while in their 60s, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian and subsequently with brain cancer, he was the model of support, going so far as to shave his full head of hair in a show of solidarity in addition to handling most of the unpleasant daily duties that manifest when one is dying, as my mom surely was. He chose NOT to put her into hospice but to keep her at home and to do most of the 'heavy lifting' himself.

I am very proud of him for that.

Me, on the other hand, I must admit that your son-in-law reminds me a lot what I would probably be like, despite the fact that as a survivor - twice - I KNOW that my wife spent virtually every minute of every day and night with me while I was in the hospital and even sat through the first round of chemo with me. I have the feeling that I would go absolutely NUTS sitting in a hospital all day.

It will come as no solace to you, but I have an unproven theory that we men are genetically disinclined to a nurturing mode, that nurturing, caregiving, is inherent in the one who can have the babies, but not in the other, who cannot. It is just a theory I have, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it :).

Take care, and best wishes to you, your daughter, her husband, and your entire family.


Posts: 4
Joined: Jun 2008

Thank you all for all your postings.
It's good to be able to read other viewpoints.

"arbrab" - you hit it right on the head when you stated that the sad part is that your one son's realization came "too late".....I think that's an aspect where I feel sorry for my soninlaw...he's missed an opportunity to share in an experience with his wife that would have drawn them more closer together than anything on this earth...having said that....I'm sure your husband knew when that picture was taken though, how much he was loved....just as I'm as sure that deep down inside my daughter knows how much her husband really loves her....she's just still in the process of "healing" now. Thank you so much for sharing, you are indeed a strong woman and a kind one too.

"Zahalene" - Well...it had to be said....I'm sure we're not alone in thinking it...just "voicing it" maybe. I dealt precisely with the "male" aspect, because that's what MY experience has been...and what was told to me over and over again by different nurses/doctors..consequently..my viewpoint would probably be different if I my experience had been
different...stands to reason. I wish you all the best, keep healthy, keep strong....YOU ARE WOMAN!! :o)

"TereB" - You wouldn't happen to be his mother would you?????

"soccerfreaks" - Thank you so much for being so candid and honest in sharing. I tend to agree with you with regards to the "maturity" level coming into effect and what a wonderful man your father came to be with the loving care he showed to your mother...no wonder you're proud of him! Somehow though....I don't quite believe you when you say you'd most likely fall into my soninlaw's category if the occasion ever arose...I truly hope you never have to make that decision....the best to you and yours!

Thank you all again for sharing and caring.
God Bless

terato's picture
Posts: 383
Joined: Apr 2002


As a male cancer survivor and former husband, I know that it is sometimes difficult to process emotions. I don't think that I ever appreciate what my ex was experiencing during the time I was in treatment. Looking at our relationship in retrospect, I was just as much to blame for our divorce as she was. I was too much "in my own head" to really be a partner. I created too much emotional distance, trying to make sense of what I was going through, not including her. Today, having lost my only sibling to suicide and my parents through their own health problems, I live alone, fearing new relationships and abandonment.

He who does not engage life, for all it presents, lives alone.

Love and Courage,


Posts: 4
Joined: Jun 2008

In response to "terato" - My heart goes out to you! You said it all in your last sentence....don't fear relationships....you're alive....go out and LIVE....it sounds as if you've grown through your experiences in life and now you can share what you've learned with others. All the best to you and God Bless.

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