Breast cancer is a life and relationship threatening trauma. Peter J. Flierl, M.S.W., offers insights and common sense for husbands of patients with breast cancer

When we marry the man or woman of our dreams, our soul mate and best friend, we expect to be together for a lifetime despite the odds against it with 6 of 10 marriages today ending in divorce. We truly believe that we will be together “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death us do part.” And then life intrudes: becoming a couple, learning to balance needs, the joy and awesome responsibility of becoming and being parents, managing careers and handling money.

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If a marriage is sound, it can weather any storm, survive virtually any trauma. If the relationship is not on solid ground, a trauma, almost any trauma or stress, can lead to its demise. That may account for the fact that nearly seven in ten marriages touched by breast cancer do not survive.

There is no magic bullet, no panacea or formula, for surviving and indeed thriving despite of or in part due to facing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and subsequent life together.

God it is said gives us challenges to build character, so you as a husband and the two of you as a couple have a great opportunity to build character, to create a lifetime love story. My bride of 28 years, Shirley, is a 22-year survivor of breast cancer. However, that does not define her. She is also a mother, a businesswoman, an educator, a lover, a community volunteer, and my lifetime partner.

She was treated at age 37 for an aggressive, Stage 3 tumor that had extensive lymph node involvement. She is alive and well, still sexy with just one breast, and is an inspiration to other women facing this disease, particularly young women.

Following are suggestions to other husbands on how to be there for your wife, how to help her become and remain a survivor.

1. Tell her you love her.

In a marriage or any intimate relationship, silence is not golden. The strong silent type need not apply for the position of husband, lover, best friend, confidante and supporter of a woman with breast cancer. Your bride, your wife, needs and wants to hear from you. Actions may speak louder than words, and you may take all the right actions, but speaking words brings comfort, reassurance and knowledge of your inner feelings.

She cannot read your mind. Being there for her is more than physical or economic security. Words have meaning. And the three most important words in the English language at this time, at this moment, when together you are facing her mortality, are: “I love you.”

The late Louise Crisafi, a saint here on Earth who always gave of herself for others in need, taught me this lesson on the Friday my wife, Shirley Ann, had her biopsy and was diagnosed. Shirley had opted for a two-step process for diagnosis one day and treatment, i.e., surgical removal of her right breast, a mastectomy, on a second day.

This meant we knew on Friday she would have a mastectomy on Monday, a weekend together, scared, anxious, frightened. Shirley was confronting her death and the imminent loss of a part of her womanhood. I was clueless, at a loss, overwhelmed and scared. I didn’t know what to do, how to act or what to say.

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