Cancer and The Cry of Husbands

It is estimated that in 2020:

On average, 617 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer every day.

On average, 228 Canadians will die from cancer every day.

Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer are the most diagnosed types of cancer in Canada (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Based on 2020 estimates:

These 4 cancers account for about half (48%) of all new cancer cases.

Almost 1 in 2 Canadians (45% of men and 43% of women) may develop cancer during their lifetime.

About 1 out of 4 Canadians (26% of men and 23% of women) may to die from cancer.[1]

This Scarred Joy post is all about husbands. Before I go any farther, I want to make the following disclaimer. This message is my impression of cancer and an anecdotal point of view of how husband often respond to news of cancer. To be more specific, this post will focus on husbands whose wives have cancer.

My wife has experienced cancer twice. The most recent experience was three years ago at this time of year. This is a reason I write a Scarred Joy post about cancer every December. Cancer is a beast and I hate it. Cancer does not have to be a winner.

It is Okay to Cry

Let us at least try to push aside the view: men and boys do not cry. Men can cry if this is part of who they are. In grief, both women and men make the mistake with an emphasis of a perceived need to be “strong” when other people are present. To cry does not imply weakness.

Now, let me make a point here. I am not saying men must cry as part of their grief process. If tears are part of his grief experience, this is appropriate. If we insist on being strong out of a restrictive societal myth, we stifle our grief.

In my forty-plus years of grief support to people I know men are more reluctant to talk about their grief than women are. My impression is men take more time to process grief before they may talk about it.

Here are a few points I would make if I spoke before a group of men whose wives are ill with cancer.

  • Guys, cancer will wear you down if you let it. This is where you hang on.
  • Let you wife know you are on this cancer journey together
  • Your love for her has not diminished
  • Resist the pull to always feel you must be strong
  • Be honest in your own grief
  • Cry if you need to and know it is okay.
  • Wait, let us read the last bullet again. Cry if you need to and know it is okay.
  • There are men who cry tears at special times of the year to them.
  • Cry for their beloved one in the darkness of night.
  • They cry for their wives during a break at work.
  • Cry because they can no longer hold in their pain or fear.

The Downside of a Cry

There are husbands who cry then leave their wives. This is shocking and sad. We can shed tears for these guys. We can shed tears for their wives. I do not get it. Guys leave their wives because of cancer. Guys, we are to love our wives with our caring presence instead of a defeated absence.

Here are the words of another husband about this sad fact.

“When Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do, so I started with research. I was shocked to learn that approximately 25 percent of men leave their wife when they first learn of her cancer diagnosis, and 70 percent of men will leave within two years of their wife’s terminal prognosis.”[2]

My friends, we do not have to act like victims to this beast called cancer. The beast does not have to win. As husbands we continue to live and love with our wives. God understands our humanity. He does not scold us as husbands when we get angry over an illness we know is beyond our control. As husbands we want our wives to stay healthy. We wish we could suffer instead of them and cannot imagine life without our wives.

I understand at least to a degree what you may experience on this cancer journey. I am one of you. I am scarred. You may carry emotional scars for the rest of your life. Guys, it is ok to cry, and it is ok if you do not. Stay by your wife’s side and love her. Do not allow your grief to get out of hand. Find a person you trust and express your grief to them.

We may fear cancer but let us not fear the cry of husbands.