Unbeknownst to Dan Dean (age 38), night sweats, nausea and a persistent raspiness in his voice were the classic symptoms to mark the onset of Cancer.
The then 23-year-old had recently returned home to Cleveland, OH after teaching abroad— and within a month found himself faced with the fight of a lifetime. A combination of Western and Eastern alternatives, dietary changes and caring for self, mentally, emotionally and spiritual gave him victory over stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Yet instead, it was the loss of his mother to brain cancer nine years later, which would be the driving force behind M Powerment, a non-profit organization created to encourage and support men of all ages to live amazing and impactful lives, after a cancer diagnosis.
“In many ways, I was basically re-living the cancer experience up close but this time without any control over it,” recalls Dean, about his mother’s diagnosis. “I couldn’t do anything to help mom. In a lot of ways, I think it was easier when I could control how I felt about things and how my reactions would set the table for other people, which made things a lot easier— but this was just so hard.”
In the face of profound loss, questions about the differences between how men and women grieve would come into play— particularly, when an unsupportive love interest insisted he man-up, and turn things around. “I felt alone in the relationship,” he explained. “In this instance, I couldn’t turn to her for support. So, I started to talk to other friends of mine who said the same things and had experienced the same thing in either a past relationship or a current one. They too, felt like they couldn’t open up to their partner about what was going on.”
“This idea of social constriction and how men should be, react or feel is really not feeling at all. We have the same palate of emotional awareness as women, but its really being stifled by expectations in society. As I learned that my experience was like what other men where experiencing, I began to do national research to figure how many men got support when they are done with cancer treatment—and learned that only about 20 percent attend support programs or are involved with support organizations. This seemed like a really important niche to fill and help men get back on their feet and process the experience in the most healthy way,” said Dean.
In keeping with the complexities of the male social code, (as oftentimes males prefer not to share what’s going on within a mixed social setting), the M-Powerment’s website provides an online curriculum approved by oncology social workers, geared toward educating and encouraging men on their journey. From first-person interviews with members who have faced challenging situations, to educational content geared toward helping men in the privacy of their own homes, M-Powerment provides resources for whatever is most challenging – identity issues, communication with a spouse or simply finding ways to de-stress.
Dean, a now 15-year cancer survivor, understands firsthand how personal connections becomes paramount when life hands you a devastating blow. “We go out and host in-person workshops in various cities where we can bring men together. I think there’s a lot of value in that in-person connectivity,” he explains.
The biggest boulder in the way? This idea of being vulnerable or showing your vulnerable side, said Dean. “Men don’t talk about stuff, but once they get past that, I find they are just as chatty about whatever is going on with them within a trusted space. So creating safe spaces for men to be vulnerable is key, and that’s where M-Powerment comes in. That’s what we do.”
To learn more please visit https://mancancer.org