This is not a book review. I wish it were. If it were a review, it would mean that I had already read the book, “Stand by Her,” by John Anderson, which just hit the shelves today. I’ll read it, although it’s likely much more important that men read it. After all, nurturing, nursing, shoulders to cry on and such do not come as naturally to men. Go ahead. Disagree. Just remember that the operative word here is, “naturally.” There is nothing to say you can’t learn. Sure, you can rise to the occasion; you can be up to the task, but let’s face it, for most men, these characteristics are no more innate than voluntarily dusting. (Dusting is not to be confused with “boy dusting,” which is to take a deep breath and blow on the coffee table, or worse, God forbid, “vacuum” with a leaf blower.)
John W. Anderson, author, husband, son, brother, and friend to four women who suffered from breast cancer has penned a guide for men who live with – and love – women with breast cancer. Fellas, take note: he should be your hero. You need this, but beware – he has set a positively lovely, and downright romantic high standard for solidarity. John Anderson shaved his head when his wife lost her own hair from breast cancer treatments. Leveling the playing field is among the kindest, most thoughtful gifts one (anyone) can give to someone who is suffering from a disease that simultaneously destroys your body and your self-image. Vanity be damned! Insult to injury and all the rest.
In “Stand by Her” (AMACOM, $18.95 paperback), Anderson offers strategies and support on the countless medical and emotional minefields that men face as husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, nephews, cousins, colleagues, and friends of breast cancer patients. You can hear what he has to say about the precarious path through this minefield on Thursday, Oct. 8 (today) on the Today Show.
I have been a caregiver and a care-receiver – although not, thankfully, related to breast cancer. There is no question that I am naturally far more comfortable in the caregiver role, which is not to say that I more comfortable than my husband in the caregiver role. He is quite adept and thoughtful, throwing his own body at my needs, at times demonstrating his caregiving in a more pragmatic way than I might choose at that moment, when what I want most is to be relieved of guilt for my body’s failings compared to its aspirations. Still, pragmatism is good and necessary, and I suspect, a much more “natural” method for men to deal with such issues.
When John Anderson’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, she said, “I am so sorry,” as if she could have prevented this curse. In these times we feel the burden we pass on to others, yet there have been times when my husband has needed me as well. Mostly, he has learned to receive with grace, although it is hard for one so giving as he is to accept gifts. Note the choice of language: gift. Let us not use the “help” word which would take most men to an entirely different and most uncomfortable place.
None of us who are blessed with loving spouses ever want them to learn anything the hard and painful way. Still, we should all embrace, learn, and accept both sides of this equation of life, love, health, hope and survival. We will be fortunate if we are able to give and receive. Here’s hoping you – and yours – do not need John Anderson’s wonderful gift and guide.