Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

Man organizes breast cancer group

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Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Marc Heyison, with the support of wife Tanya and daughter Samantha, 2, started a national nonprofit group, Men Against Breast Cancer, in 1999 to educate men about their role as a caregiver when a family member or friend is diagnosed.
Marc Heyison’s life changed forever in 1992 with five words – ‘‘Your mom has breast cancer.”

The Adamstown resident started hunting for answers on how he could help his mother, Gloria, but quickly learned there were few support networks for men. That’s how Men Against Breast Cancer (MABC), a national nonprofit organization, was formed in 1999.

‘‘Our focus is education,” said Heyison, the group’s co-founder and president. ‘‘We want to give more attention to the man’s role as a caregiver.”

The organization’s logo, similar to the pink ribbon that symbolizes a breast cancer survivor, is half blue and half pink to show the partnership between men and women, Heyison said.

MABC aims to teach men about communication skills to help with problem-solving and dealing with issues that arise when a loved one is diagnosed.

‘‘When given the opportunity, men will be there and be an effective caregiver but it’s our nature to want to fix everything,” Heyison said. ‘‘I’ve learned that we can’t fix it but we can be there and be by her side. We just have to give up the remote control.”

MABC held its first national conference in August in Baltimore; Heyison said the men he met there have changed his life.

‘‘After last year’s conference, we left as a band of brothers,” Heyison said. ‘‘It was one of the most amazing experiences. It was surreal.”

This year’s conference was held Friday through Sunday. One-on-one educational workshops offered to help men learn how to care for the women they love using Heyison’s model to identify a problem through brainstorming, optimism, planning and gathering expert information to make a decision.

One of the nearly 40 people who attended was Michael Steeves of Frederick. He found MABC while searching for support groups online after his wife, Alice McCormick, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June.

‘‘It gave me what I needed in terms of information and support,” Steeves said. ‘‘I can’t begin to describe the difference it has made in my outlook.”

McCormick has been through three surgeries since her diagnosis and will begin chemotherapy in September, Steeves said.

Through MABC, Steeves said has learned how to support his wife and find a network of men coping with similar issues.

‘‘Men Against Breast Cancer is a wonderful idea,” Steeves said. ‘‘In general, caregivers don’t get the recognition of the stress they are under because so much is focused on the patient and rightfully so. It takes a lot of emotional energy when a loved one is suffering. I now know I’m not alone in this and there are resources out there to help me feel empowered.”

Just after one day at the conference, Steeves said he was given the tools he needed to support his wife in her fight.

‘‘The end result was I felt more confident to provide better support to her and be the husband I know I can be,” Steeves said. ‘‘The word [cancer] means death in your mind, but that’s not reality. It’s not a death sentence because there have been such advancements in treatments.”

Heyison is a former professional baseball player, and now owns the company Top Notch, which makes imprinted and embroidered items.

Following treatment, Heyison’s mother, has remained cancer-free. Now 70, she lives in Silver Spring, and Heyison said he still tries to attend doctor’s appointments with her to make sure the cancer is still in remission.

‘‘I’m thankful I get to do this in honor of my mother and not in her memory,” Heyison said. ‘‘Those are the five most horrific words you can hear – ‘Your mom has breast cancer.’ I just felt hopeless and helpless.”