Mixed sex support groups for BC

Party on Hi David, if I’d known you were going to join the party, I wouldn’t have left so early so I’ve come back.

OK, let’s kick off with your last question asking what I have done for BCC. Here’s my Breast Cancer CV:

Member of BCC Campaigns Panel
Did two radio interviews and newspaper interviews in Nov 2005 to raise awareness of 41,000 faces campaign.
I’ve put my name forward for selection & training for peer support – waiting for recruitment to start for my area later this year.

Race for Life participant 2004
Member of Race for Life support team 2005

Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Member of Campaigns & Advocacy Network (campaigning for improvement to breast cancer services)
Joined the Generations Study last year (study into causes of breast cancer)

Walk the Walk (charity that organises events to raise money for Breakthrough and Bristol Cancer Help Centre)

Power walked a Half Marathon 2005
Taking part in Moonwalk 2006

Breast Care Centre

Donated £750 to my local clinic in 2005 by (winnings from a charity quiz)
Walking another half marathon Sept 2006 to raise money for them.

Also it seems according to you, I’m a sheep and according to Bill, I’m opinionated to the extreme. Cool, I’ve never been told that before.

I’m going to try to imagine what it must be like to be a man with breast cancer. The diagnosis of cancer would be horrible, but I would have an added problem that women don’t face, which is that it is regarded as a woman’s disease because hardly any men get it. The information I got would probably be OK – thanks to the work you guys have done on this, but I would feel very isolated and I would probably want to go to a support group. If there was a breast cancer support group that welcomed men, I would definitely want to go to that in preference to an all-male cancer support group or a mixed-sex, general cancer support group.

I would be worried that I might be stigmatised in other groups because of having a disease that is seen as a female disease. I would be concerned that other men would try to dominate the meetings and conversation. How much more attractive a mixed-sex support group would be for me. The prospect of being welcomed by sympathetic women, perhaps they might treat me extra nicely, being that rarity, a man with breast cancer. They would be good listeners, probably more supportive than a male group and would foster an environment where everyone got a chance to speak.

Of course this is what I would want if I were a man with breast cancer, but I hope that I would also be sensitive enough to realise that, although the experience might be great for me, it might not be good for all the women at the support group and I hope I would think very carefully before trying to destroy the arguments of women that don’t think mixed-sex support groups are good for many women.

Bill & David, I’m pleased for both of you that you find attending your support groups a satisfactory experience. I wonder whether all the women attending feel that your presence makes the experience as good, if not better than an all female group? Are they ever inhibited from discussing something because you are there? Have prospective new members ever been deterred from joining because you are men? We’ll never know because the only way to get a true opinion of the value of mixed-sex support groups would be to carry out an anonymous survey of the members.

As Jane says, it is for each support group to decide whether it wants to be single or mixed-sex. How successful the group is depends on the dynamics which can change suddenly as new people join and others stop coming. If they choose not to admit men, that should be respected by men and women. If people feel strongly that existing support groups don’t give them what they need, they can start their own groups. I would. That’s how many groups start, to plug a gap.

Bill, you criticised Jane for providing examples about other types of support group which are female only and the reasons why. I completely disagree with your view that these examples have no place in this discussion and are not comparable to breast cancer support groups. They are excellent examples of why women can often benefit from single sex support groups and clearly support the case that Jane and I make which is that many women would not feel comfortable in a mixed-sex breast cancer support group. Why should they? The experience of the disease is not the same for men and women. Much of it is, yet a significant proportion of the more sensitive stuff isn’t.

When I started this thread, I didn’t think mixed-sex support groups were a good idea, but I wanted to see what others thought. Now that we’ve had the discussion, I’m more firmly convinced that a mixed-sex breast cancer support group wouldn’t work for me or many other women, though if I had no alternative, I would give it a go. If I didn’t like it, I’d go and start my own women-only group.

Bill says “why not use this intermingling of experience across the genders to create an educationally sound experience that satisfies both men and women David, you suggest that I should be enlightened.

Why? – all I want is to be able to go to a woman only support group to give and receive support with other women who’ve had breast cancer. I’m just dealing with a disease, not looking for some enlightening, gender inclusive experience.

It’s unfortunate that keeping groups women only inevitably excludes men from the breast cancer support group experience, but let’s keep it in proportion. Men with breast cancer represent a tiny minority of breast cancer patients. Should female support groups be pressurised into accepting a tiny number of men and risking upsetting the benefit the women get from it for the sake of political correctness? The only thing that would make be say yes to that question would be to see some research that showed that the benefits of the support experience for women were as great or greater than they received at a female only support group. I would also want the study to look at whether women had been put off from joining a support group due to the presence of men.

Disbelief Daphne, I have read many of your posts and you have always argued an intelligent and articulate case, and I am usually in accord. Unfortunately I really cannot agree with you on this subject. To the question ‘why should men with breast cancer be allowed to join a breast cancer support group’, the answer must surely be - because they are entitled to. Simple - it’s in the name. Do I think that men would be attracted to a support group by the prospect of ‘sympathetic women being extra nice’. Most definately not. There is I think an empathy deficit here.

If a man diagnosed with breast cancer wished to join a support group, I can only begin to imagine the feelings of despair, isolation and need for support he must surely feel to want to walk into a female bastion with a disease which is associated with females. I suspect most men do not ask and instead deal with this disease on their own, and I feel saddened for every one of them.

It is in fact a wonderful opportunity to explore our commonalities in struggle and also to discover our differences. I do not need an academic study to tell me that nobody - nobody - male or female should have to experience this disease in isolation when they should not have to. This is not about being pc this is about common humanity.

The case you state of the ‘husband’ who attended the support group. I do not understand how this supports your case. What it demonstrates to me is that the women in that group failed him and they failed his wife. What were they thinking of? Was there nobody who could not have had a simple honest conversation with either him or his wife? It is after all a support group, not a clique, or a special type of persons cancer group, isn’t it? So many different levels of sharing happen within these groups.

Maybe in all this you are not looking for an enlightening experience - but I certainly would not say no to one. Certainly I would not wish to cause further damage or harm to someone else’s experience especially when the disease itself is not exclusive - why should I be?


Celeste Let me give you a pat on the pack for your support - it is difficult being a Man with Breast Cancer - but I can add we are not as isolated as we used to be - with more people like yourself who are welcoming us in to the group - it can only get better.

Thanks again for your support

David W

Nothing changes Celeste,
Neither of the groups I go to mentions breast cancer in their name. They were set up by women for women and one was specifically set up to support younger women because the organisers felt that existing support groups were not that good at supporting the issues for younger women. I disagree with you that men are entitled to join a support group set up by women for women. There’s no reason why the question can’t be asked, but, if the women choose to keep the group female only, that decision should be respected and the women should not be portrayed as villains. In one of the other threads, Brian mentions that a local newspaper was going to run an article on how he’d been shunned by local support groups. Well I very much hope the paper didn’t. Why should groups of vulnerable women be pilloried for not wanting a man in their support group? Shouldn’t the wishes and welfare of the majority prevail?

I haven’t got an empathy deficit here, just a very clear eyed view of how male/female interaction works. I repeat, my reasons for going to a support group are to receive support from women who have had breast cancer and to offer them some support. Why would I want to go out of my way to “explore our commonalities in struggle and also to discover our differences” in a mixed-sex support group. I already know what my commonalities with men are in struggle and I know my differences with men. Most of the people I work with are men and I live with two of them.

Regarding the “that man” example where you say you don’t understand how it supports my case. Please re-read my post and you will see that I used this specifically an an example of why I think support groups should be restricted to breast cancer patients only, not their relatives as well. I didn’t use it to support the case for female only breast cancer support groups.

What fascinates me is how you side with the man on this and blame the women in the group for failing him and his wife. I think they should have spoken honestly to the couple about the issue, but surely the man bears a big responsibility for what happened. Should he not have displayed much more sensitivity? He was healthy, yet had a vulnerable wife, was going into a group of vulnerable women at various stages of dealing with breast cancer and seems to have tried to dominate them, and succeeded. This is exactly the sort of male behaviour that Jane and I are concerned about when the case for mixed-sex groups is made.

Certainly men diagnosed with breast cancer deserve support and empathy, the same as anyone diagnosed with a serious illness. If they want to join a breast cancer support group, then their request should be considered and handled sensitively, but that doesn’t mean that women should feel obliged to let them join if the women feel that it would diminish the support experience for them. Sadly, this may mean that men have nowhere else to go, unless they and their supporters set up a mixed-sex support group and try to recruit newly diagnosed patients. If that’s what they have to do to get the support they need (assuming enough women would be tempted in to a mixed-sex group), so be it. I believe the wellbeing of the women has to take precedence over the wellbeing of one man.

The dynamics between men and women are complex and are very well explained in Jane’s post. You choose to overlook this, I don’t, which seems to make me a monster with no humanity in your eyes. I think you are doing a disservice to your sex by not acknowledging that these issues are hugely important and should be taken into consideration in the debate about mixed-sex support group.

You are just focusing on the humanity and empathy aspects of including men in breast cancer support groups, but that’s too simplistic, the issue is much more than that, its about understanding how men and women interact with each other and the pros and cons of the experiences for each sex. Jane mentions feminist studies which have shown that single-sex support groups can be better for women as their discussion isn’t stifled by the presence of men. Breast cancer is a disease which affects women and a small number of men, but men and women are different creatures, mentally as well as physically. It’s disingenuous for anyone to suggest that mixed-sex support groups are good for both sexes when there is no evidence to prove that is the case, yet evidence exists to the contrary, and shows that women do better in some single-sex groups.

The only thing in this thread you have said which I agree with is the strange behaviour of some women in the company of a few men (toddler group example).

Message from Moderator Obviously this is a topic where some people have very strong views and wish to use the forum to discuss them. But I would like to gently remind you all that we want to keep this atmosphere on these forums supportive and respectful. As you discuss please keep in mind the first point of the Code of Conduct for this site

‘Respect. Breast Cancer Care online community is about the sharing of information and support. We recognise that at times user’s views will differ. It is important for users to recognise, acknowledge and respect the values and beliefs of others. If you disagree with what someone has said then make sure you argue the issue and not the person.’

Best wishes

BCC Moderator

— Hi All — Sorry, only just seen this posting so a bit late off the ground.

I am sorry about the men feeling excluded, I feel strongly about the recognition of bc affecting both sexes, and I think it terrible that any man is not made welcome at discussion or support groups on bc, or directed towards support - HOWEVER, I do feel that Daphne has put forward the case politely for many many women who sadly are affected by other issues than bc in their life and who WOULD find it difficult to talk freely in a mixed meeting.

I see the need for both kinds of groups, because there is also the argument that women need to put forward their arguments about the way that bc affects their sexuality because of the way that men look on breasts in the media. Having men in the group could lead to positive discussions on this which would help BOTH sexes. It is may be true that bc affects men equally on certain aspects of life, but surely not on the sexual IMAGE that breasts seem to dominate in many instances, media, fashion, etc., etc.,. and the men could put forward their own embarrassment which some feel at the media’s concept of bc being a female disease.

I don’t see why Daphne should be seen as the bad guy for suggesting separate groups. There are many self-help groups for varyious minority groups - race minority groups have their own ALL-WOMEN members because their different cultures cause different problems than for the majority of women - there is nothing wrong with this, surely?

I would like there to be a choice - but ensure that NO-ONE is ever turned away without being given a direction to a group/help which is available locally. I personally, would love to discuss certain sexual problems that I am encountering - sex is a thing of the past - but could never discuss them in a mixed group - indeed would struggle even on a one to one with a nurse (and have done so). I have been the victim of abuse and am not at ease in a room with men at the best of times.

That does not mean to say that mixed groups should be a no-no. We should all have the choice - men and women alike - and be given a little more support from hospitals etc on setting up groups should there not be one to our liking. Although this does seem to be improving nowadays.

Sorry if upset anyone.

Joy x

The olive branch …‘a monster with no humanity’ - Daphne where on earth did that come from?

Let me first assure you that I think no such thing. We are certainly at odds over this issue - and it is very difficult to unpick. The posts are so long and frankly I cannot concentrate or respond to all the issues raised - but I am not deliberately misunderstanding or cherry picking.

You did raise an interesting point regarding ‘that man’ why didn’t I attach any responsibility to him. I suppose because it was quite clear that he was there to support his wife, and he was unaware of how he was behaving/or being perceived. This lack of awareness is not malicious - it is exactly that - unaware. I didn’t read anything negative into his motivations I just saw a bloke trying to do something practical and getting it wrong. I did see something malicious in the womens attitudes and continuance to speak of ‘that man’ without developing any insight into their own behaviour.

I am a woman who prefers the company of women mainly because of common interests. Many of my friends perceive men as ‘failed women’ because they may not be as perceptive or as understanding, and we laugh and poke fun at their failures, and to some degree that is all part of the cameraderie of both sexes. However we women never seem to ask ourselves - how much do we understand about men. Do we actually know the basics?

I will be the first to the barricade to fight the cause of women - should the need arise. So I know I do not do a disservice to my sex, but sometimes I wonder whether women actually believe that the 1D male stereotype exists? I believe, I hope we have grown past that 'all men are evil b…ds ’ phase.

It may be that everyone would prefer to their group to be single gender. However I could never personally be a part of a group that rejected anyone with breast cancer - as we say in the country - there is more than one way to skin a rabbit - and there are different ways to ensure the needs of all may be met.

Joy - the issues you present are certainly challenging, but I do feel (some may say naively) that these could be overcome. Were I to run a support group someone who had a negative experience such as yours with men would have to be fully consulted.

To the moderator - thanks for gentleness of touch. I do not feel this was becoming personally abusive, at least I hope disagreement would not have been interpreted so.

Best wishes


Olive branch a good idea Hi Celeste,
We’ve got very different views on this and we aren’t going to change each others’ opinions, but that’s OK, we’ve had a good debate and I hope we’ve given ourselves and others food for thought.

I’d like to pass on my thanks to the moderator as well.

Celeste, I’m sure we will discuss other topics where we are more in agreement, so let’s look ahead to that.

I believe it was your birthday earlier this week, so I hope you had a good one.

best wishes


Thanks! …I had a great birthday. We sure did disagree on this one Daphne and I think it’s a really good thing to hammer it out, rather than disappear at the first sign of conflict or back down.

So did we learn anything? I think if nothing else the need to respond made us think and gave us an opportunity to clarify our own thoughts. So I’ll look forward to agreeing with you on other topics, but I also know we’ve both got enough about us - to be able to disagree if that’s the way we feel.
It’s been a really good and useful discussion and I thank you for that.

Take care