Breast Cancer, Male: Social Issues

Some men are concerned about how a diagnosis of breast cancer will affect their relationships with family and friends. To help address these concerns, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers a range of psychosocial services for men with breast cancer and their loved ones.

This section addresses the possible effects of a breast cancer diagnosis and its subsequent treatment on social relationships with family and friends. Also discussed are your rights in the workplace, health insurance, and financial concerns.

Friends & Family

Your friends, family, and co-workers naturally will be concerned about you as you progress through your treatment. Many will want to help in any way they can. Here are a few tips for managing these relationships at such a stressful time.

  • Ask one person to be your primary caregiver and advocate. This person is often a spouse, but it can also be a sibling, parent, or friend. It can be very helpful to have one person who goes with you to appointments, keeps track of treatments, and can talk to doctors on your behalf, if you so choose. Discuss this role with the person and find out what makes both of you comfortable. How much input do you want? How much is the other person comfortable with?
  • The people who care about you will want to know how you are doing. But don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings. Take care of yourself. If you are not up to talking on the phone or having visitors, appoint one family member as the “chief information officer.” Make use of e-mail. Remember, it’s up to you to decide how much you want people to know about your medical condition.
  • Accept help from people. Allow people to assist with tasks such as cooking meals, mowing the lawn, shopping, and cleaning your home. It might help you both to feel better.

Family Disruption

Cancer often disrupts normal family relationships and responsibilities. Traditional roles may be reversed or additional roles taken on, causing stress for everyone. Recognize that returning to old roles and routines may take time. Open communication and a sense of humor help.

Your Rights at Work

While statistics show that most cancer survivors are able to return to work, some people report feeling they have been unfairly passed over for promotion, or have experienced negative attitudes or undue criticism in the workplace. For some, physical, psychological, and occupational vulnerability persists long after treatment. It is important to understand the laws that protect you — such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for information on what steps you can take. You can also contact the American Cancer Society or the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship for more information.

Health Insurance

Cancer makes people acutely aware of the importance of understanding their insurance policies. To get the most from your insurance coverage, start by keeping good records of all claims and correspondence filed with the company. Also keep a copy of every letter you write or your doctor writes. Keep a phone log of all conversations you have with representatives, noting the name and phone number of each person you speak with.

If you have difficulty filing your claims, ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to someone who can help. Many hospitals have social workers or other professionals who can help you through this process. Some facilities handle the billing for you, submitting claims directly to your insurance company. If you can afford it, consider hiring your own professional claims assistant. The money he or she can save you might pay for the service itself.

If you believe a claim has been unfairly denied, don’t take no for an answer. Find out how to file an appeal. Ask your doctor to call the company or write a letter of support. Ask for help from your benefits manager at work or financial counselors at the hospital. You can also contact your state commission on insurance for information on what is legally required to be covered in your state.

Financial Concerns

Any illness can cause financial concerns, even if you have extensive insurance coverage. Cancer can put a burden on a family’s resources, and financial difficulties may continue after cancer treatment is complete. The financial office in your hospital or local community agencies may be able to help you.

If you are having trouble paying bills, talk to your creditors and ask about setting up a payment schedule. Many will accept even small payments, allowing you to protect your credit history. Find out if you are eligible to have Medicare cover some of your medical expenses. And be sure to take all allowable medical deductions on your income tax return.