A Guide for Clueless Guys
1 Shut up and listen. To her complaints, her stories, her fears, and her feelings.
2 Don't be a 24-7 cheerleader. Sure, in theory it's good to look on the bright side. But studies show that women who express all their emotions cope better with the stress of treatment.
3 Follow her lead. You can share your views about treatment options, but she's the boss.
4 Be her appointment pal. Unless she strenuously objects, go with her to doctor's appointments whenever possible. Ask how you can be most helpful: by keeping track of her questions, taking notes or taping the session, or just holding her hand.
5 Ask for a to-do list. That goes for household chores as well as cancer issues.
6 Don't be afraid to joke around. Laughing at cancer is one way to lessen the stress you're both feeling--as long as your wife doesn't take offense.
7 Take a break from cancer. Whenever possible, get out of the house--for an overnight trip, a dinner out, a movie. Or rent a DVD if your wife isn't up to an excursion. You'll both feel better.
8 Keep intimacy alive. Even if your wife's not in the mood for sex because of surgery, chemo, or radiation, she might love a back rub or a foot massage.
9 Flowers. They work wonders--something lovely in the midst of a not-so-lovely time.
10 Recharge your batteries. ^ With your wife's OK, do something you enjoy--shoot hoops, ride a bike, play poker.
11 Find a confidant. Pour your heart out to a friend or call the Y-ME breast cancer hotline at (800) 221-2141. It has husbands on call.
12 Be prepared for a New Normal. After treatment, even if your wife seems OK, she may still be worried about recurrence or just not feeling herself. Show a little empathy.
This story appears in the October 11, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.