Was Stress the Culprit?
by Paula Susan~
One in a thousand men have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, reports breastcancer.org. When you or someone you love has the diagnosis of male breast cancer, it is not only devastating, it is shocking. (For women, on the other hand, one in eight who live to age 80 will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute.)
Let me state for the record, my Daddy was a man’s man, through and through. The men in his community loved him and the women practically swooned over his fierce good looks and his kindness. He was the one man in my life I could count on for his honesty, his love, his good humor, and his gentle wisdom. In the thirty years I knew him, I never saw him angry about anything. Indeed, I have wondered whether repressing his anger not acknowledging the stresses in his life – might have caused or exacerbated the cancer. (My mother was tough and probably depressed- not so easy to live with).
One definition of stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from perceived or real adverse or demanding circumstances. The idea that stress is a factor in the rapidity with which cancer spreads is discussed in this article in Medical News Today. As a clinician, I see a correlation between stress and anxiety and note that they are very often components of depression.
Researchers already know that ATF3 (a hormone) is activated under stressful conditions that threaten the constancy of the internal environment. Hans Seyle, an Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist, known as the “Father” of stress research, introduced the concept of stress in a medical context. (However, since anxiety often occurs together with depression, research as far back as the 17th century seems relevant and interesting in relation to stress and its influence on disease.)
Selye began his foray into the subject in 1936 and continued throughout his life. Today many physical problems are correlated in some way with stress. Here is an article from medicine.net listing a few.
In an interesting article you can learn of Selye’s prodigious writings and exciting contributions to both medicine and psychology. He was an early proponent of the mind/body connection that has revolutionized both fields.
As a Trauma and Relationship Specialist, I am aware that clients often come in with anxiety caused by the stress of the unknown, the stress of problems they face, the anxiety that nothing will help. This may impair their ability to be fully present, and to assimilate the therapeutic work.
So with this in mind, I consciously address this possibility by using one of a variety of approaches from Mindfulness Training, EFT, EMDR, Hypnosis, specific breathing techniques, or a poem or inspirational reading, to calm them. I teach them how to handle their stress when outside of my office, so they can better deal with the issues in their lives.
There are many ways to protect ourselves from the deleterious effects of stress. A major one is to have the ability to put into language what is bothering you. That allows for the possibility of resolution. Music, writing, drawing, walking, jogging, speaking with someone who cares, a bubble bath… each of us should have a growing list of things to do when stress hits.
Many men expect that they should be able to handle everything. Think of the stress created by unrealistic expectations. So, if we want our men to live long, healthy lives, we need to keep our lines of communication open so that partners can relieve the stress that comes from internalizing conflict and disappointment.
And, we must educate men to be aware of the risks of breast cancer. When it is detected too late, there is no successful treatment. Breast exams and mammograms are for men, too especially if there is something suspicious. A test for a gene (Brca) can indicate whether there is a predisposition
for breast cancer.
Thus breast cancer as well as stress are unisex issues. My Daddy was a fabulous man and I am missing him in my world. We must stop the early loss of good human beings to the scourge of cancer. If reducing stress can contribute to that end, then we are compelled to de-stress our lives in every possible way. And, we must heed the warning signals of a problem with our breasts that goes for manly men as well as women.