“I’m going to have to teach my husband how to use the washing machine because he’s never used it before.”
This quote, given by someone labeled “Donna”, is just one person’s response to learning they have mesothelioma. It’s an example of how people react to their cancer diagnosis — what they find important for preparing their family.
The specifics of how to prepare the family, though, is often different depending on the patient’s gender.
The European Journal of Oncology Nursing interviewed 24 people living with mesothelioma: 13 men and 11 women. All but five had pleural mesothelioma, and the ages ranged from 31-81. Most were retired, with a spouse and children.
The interviews covered a wide range of topics:
- Feelings on having different mesothelioma treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy
- Feelings of support from family, friends and mesothelioma support groups
- How they scheduled visits around their physical appearance
- Their communication about the diagnosis to friends and family
Preparing the Family: Financial Security and Household Chores
Most notable was the difference between men and women in what to focus on to “prepare” their loved ones. Men focused on financial aspects, such as ensuring their wife and children were taken care of and set up well if they passed away.
Women were more concerned with daily tasks and household responsibilities, such as teaching their husbands how to use the washing machine.
Here are a few of the telling quotes from the interviews:
- “My response to my diagnosis was to come home and to chuck everything out,” Amy said, “and I took down the net curtains, because I said well, men don’t wash net curtains. I bought him a new oven, a new freezer. I bought everything new, so that when I was gone there was nothing he had to buy.”
- “… We’ve started making a file of stuff but partly financial, like bank account details, direct debits, who my accountant is, stuff … so she doesn’t have to look it up, or she knows where everything is,” Ben (male) said.
- “I decided to have the surgery which was … I don’t know really; I think I was worried about what would happen to my husband if I wasn’t there to organise him,” Irene (female) said.
- “… what I did was decided to put all my [financial] affairs in order, and I mean all my affairs, rather than not do anything about it, and then all of a sudden you die and then you leave a heap of stuff to do for [wife] and the kids,” Ivan (male) said.
Women appeared more averse to seeking financial mesothelioma compensation, with Donna saying she “didn’t want to come across as being greedy.” Men were far more likely to seek compensation through legal claims solely to help their family long-term.
“My main worries were my kids and my wife, they’re my priority,” Lenny (male) said. “If it happened to me tomorrow what would happen to them, can they survive financially…”
Gender Roles and Age of Mesothelioma Patients
An interesting aspect is how age affects these feelings. The gender roles being articulated are more associated with 20th century familial structures. They’re more relatable for older generations.
Mesothelioma affects elderly people far more than young adults or even middle-aged adults. The patients are more likely to still abide by gender roles, such as men handle finances while women handle daily household chores.
“We’re a traditional 50s/60s, if you like, family, as much as she is the housewife, the cook and the mother, and I do all the bills,” Derek (male) said. “I do everything in the house as far as the running of it, if you like. So I’ve got to try to start getting her to do all the banking, all the money, all the bills, that part of it that maybe your granddad used to do or whatever, I do, and she does the lady role of it, which now … I mean … it’s a different world now, isn’t it? Women get on and do all that sort of stuff, but not when we were young.”
The participants were understandably shocked and concerned about their diagnosis. All received help from their partners and loved ones.
Men were encouraged by their wives through constant organization. Women in the study were more keen to join mesothelioma support groups.
“I have an incredibly supportive wife who is absolutely diligent in ensuring that I do everything properly … she’s absolutely on the ball up to the second of the requirements and nags me in a nice way to do everything I’m supposed to do [ …] I don’t know how I would be if I hadn’t had her,” Fred (male) said.
The hope is the study helps nurses, doctors and others support patients in personalized ways, accounting for gender disparities in a patient’s priorities when living with mesothelioma.
“These differences highlight the importance of supporting patients to make informed decisions regarding access to support, compensation, treatments and trials,” the authors wrote.
Sources & Author
- Gender and the experiences of living with mesothelioma: A thematic analysis. European Journal of Oncology Nursing. Retrieved from: https://www.ejoncologynursing.com/article/S1462-3889(21)00072-7/fulltext. Accessed: 05/27/2021.
Sources & Author