“I was 29 years old and I immediately felt like a little boy again. I was like, ‘Oh God, my mom is gonna die.’” said Marc Heyison.
In 1992 Marc’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year and a half later after hearing the diagnosis and trying his best to support his mother through treatment, the spark — or as Marc calls it, “a burning ember” ignited. Taking on the role as his mother’s caregiver along with his Dad and brother, Marc was determined to support the women affected by breast cancer, Marc became overcome with a desire to help encourage other men to support the women they love.
In 1999, he founded Men Against Breast Cancer, “the first and only national non-profit that educates and empowers men to be effective caregivers when breast cancer strikes their family.”
I had the opportunity to chat with Marc and although his organization is primarily focused on breast cancer, his message is transcendent: be there for the people you love.
SG: When a friend, wife, sister or mother – anyone – walks into the room and says, “I have breast cancer,” what can we do?
MH: The most important is to make sure she knows you love her. After that, as long as she knows you’re going to be there with her, then the rest is what’s appropriate for your family. But she needs to know first and foremost that you’re going to be there with her. And once she knows that and can feel that, then everything else is possible.
SG: What were the challenges that you faced being a son of a woman fighting breast cancer — or more generally, being a man in what feels like a “woman’s fight”?
MH: I prefer to look at it as an opportunity. The opportunity for me was to help people see through a man’s perspective that breast cancer is a family issue that devastates the entire family. People need to see that men play a vital role in helping their family navigate the crisis of breast cancer. That’s our mission at Men Against Breast Cancer, helping men be there for the women they love when breast cancer strikes their female loved one. It’s highlighted by our ribbon being pink and blue; it shows a partnership between men and women.
SG: How does a caregiver take care of someone else, give so much to another person, without losing themselves or compromising your own health and sanity?
MH: You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of someone else. A lot of men will not take care of themselves because it makes them feel guilty, like going to work, playing golf with the guys or going to a game. You can do all those things as appropriate based on [how your significant other feels and what she needs at that time.] You have to be there for yourself mentally and physically so you can be there for her.
SG: How can women support the men they love as caregivers? It could be easy to push men aside and assume it’s a woman’s fight.
MH: It’s a two-way street; men and women both need to be able to communicate openly and honestly throughout diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. I have heard from many men around the country that the patient often expects the men to read their mind.
SG: (laughs) Women assume men can do that all the time – why would this be any different?!
MH: Exactly and it’s not fair. Women should give feedback, whether it’s good or bad. But also, guys can ask, “Hey, how am I doing?” But [men are often afraid] to ask that question because we are afraid we aren’t doing a good enough job.
Men need to take the chance and ask, “Hey, you need me to do this?” or for the woman to say, “Hey, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.” Communication becomes even more critical.
SG: I always ask, what’s the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were 20 years old?
MH: Just one? (laughs) To take a step back and put things in perspective before I respond or react. It’s part of what we teach with Men Against Breast Cancer, when you’re in a stressful situation, you have just seconds to decide if you’re going to be helpful and proactive or reactive.
Show your support to the men that love us by donating to Men Against Breast Cancer. Visit menagainstbreastcancer.org for more information and to give back in the fight against breast cancer. Remember, it’s a two-way street.
MH: Bottom line? Be there for people you love.