- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2001

Women with breast cancer often need the support of their loved ones, so one group is trying to show men how to be more helpful.

"Breast cancer is a family issue," says Marc Heyison, a breast-cancer activist and Silver Spring resident. "It is devastating to the whole family."

In 1992, Mr. Heyison's mother, Gloria Heyison, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 56.

"I felt helpless," says Mr. Heyison, a small-business owner and former minor-league third baseman with the Baltimore Orioles organization. "I wanted to do something to fight back."

In 1999, he created Men Against Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit organization designed to help men become active participants in the fight against breast cancer.

About 192,200 new cases will be diagnosed this year in the United States, says American Cancer Society spokeswoman Joann Schellenbach.

"There are plenty of men doing great work [on breast cancer] throughout the country, but there really wasn't a men's group out there trying to care for the women we love," Mr. Heyison says. "Our mission is to target men to get them involved."

Men Against Breast Cancer's pet project is a joint effort with the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, which is developing a program called Survival Skills for Men. Lillie Shockney, a registered nurse and director of education and outreach at the center, is helping to shape the program.

Ms. Shockney says Survival Skills for Men will provide education and counseling to help men become effective support partners when breast cancer strikes their families. She says the effort has involved convening numerous focus groups and talking to "hundreds and hundreds of couples to create what we think will be a really good class."

A survivor of breast cancer, Ms. Shockney says she was diagnosed with the disease in 1992 at age 38. That was the first time. At age 40, she endured a second mastectomy.

"I'm doing fine now," she says, "but I firsthand understand the fright and anxiety of this."

Ms. Shockney says Survival Skills for Men will include the following suggestions for men who are facing breast cancer with their partners:

• Assume the function of data central.

"It's very exhausting for a breast-cancer patient to continually answer the phone and tell the same story over and over to concerned friends and family she turns into a broken record," Ms. Shockney says. Instead, she says, the man can turn information-dispensing into his own task, whether this means always answering the telephone, calling family and friends with news or even setting up an e-mail system or Web site to inform loved ones of the patient's progress.

• Don't baby the patient.

"It's tempting to turn the marriage into a father-daughter relationship," Ms. Shockney cautions. Men need to support their wives, but the couple must maintain the spousal connection, she says.

• Learn about and understand the disease and its relationship to sexuality.

"She is worried that she is not looking attractive to him anymore; he is worried that she doesn't know that having a breast doesn't matter," Ms. Shockney says. "They have to come to some understanding about this loss and the major change in her body image."

• Be trained and ready to take on some tasks of basic care after surgery, such as changing your partner's dressings and emptying her drains.

"The patient will have at least one and maybe as many as eight drains in her armpit and chest," Ms. Shockney says. "This is one thing he may be able to do very well for her."

The pilot program of Survival Skills for Men will be completed this summer and released in a guidebook.

"Marc then will be able to roll it out across the nation," Ms. Shockney says. People also can access the information via the Web site (www.menagainstbreastcancer.org) or request it from the institution at which they are receiving treatment for the disease.

Mr. Heyison says this support will go a long way toward helping families cope with the disease.

"It's not that men don't want to help," he says. "It's that they sometimes don't know what to do. And I think we all know that when we get support from people, we feel better. It's not rocket science."


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