Men, cancer and emotions

Tuesday 06 February 2024

This month’s blog has been prompted by a family member’s recent cancer diagnosis. 

With one in two of us predicted to have a cancer diagnosis at some point, then it’s not surprising that we all have a personal contact with cancer. 

What has been interesting (from a personal perspective) is witnessing the male emotional response to a cancer diagnosis, first hand. 

It echoes the responses and behaviours my colleagues and I see, and help with, on a daily basis – and is still not always  acknowledged or understood.

Put simply, most of us women want to talk about our emotions, whilst men don’t. 

That is over simplification, I realise, and an area of huge debate, but I thought I’d have a look at how men perhaps deal with and process a big emotional topic such as cancer.

How cancer affects men emotionally

Pent up emotion can lead to stress, sleeplessness, constant tiredness and irritability. This tends to lead to behaviours which we may all recognise:-

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Working longer hours
  • Spending more time away from home
  • Consuming more alcohol, or recreational drugs
  • Behaving recklessly and/or violently

What you can do

If you identify this in yourself, or males affected by cancer around you, it could be helpful to think about accessing additional support – talking to someone about what is going on, and recognising what might be triggering these non-coping strategies.

Maybe a chat to a friend or family member you can trust, or talking through how you’re feeling with your GP, specialist nurse or here at Ѳ’s

There are practical courses and workshops, as well one-to-one support, available, and it's not seen as 'unmacho' to ask about help in addressing emotions.

Support groups, both online and face to face can help too, where men can address their issues in a way they feel comfortable with.

I've been looking at men’s cancer forums which generally show incredible emotional depth but blended in with humour, and much factual information.  (I think men cope by being practical, and focused - maybe going back to their ‘hunter/gatherer’ days.)

Meanwhile, as a woman trying to help a family member, I've learned some useful lessons. 

The men in our lives may not necessarily want to, or be able to react or talk about cancer related matters in the open way we'd expect. 

It doesn't mean that they haven't heard the information, or understood it...but are possibly processing it all, and compartmentalising it, to be discussed when they are ready.

Originally written by Sue Long, Cancer Support Specialist. Updated February 2024

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