Thursday, April 11, 2002

A worried man

His diary of breast cancer

        It's brave, in a way. But also petulant and self-pitying. And angry.

        It Takes A Worried Man is Brendan Halpin's account of what happened during his wife's battle with cancer.

        To him.

        “I wrote what was real to me — fear, lust, annoyance, love, fatigue, resentment, existential terror, horror movies and country music. It's not pretty, but it's real.”

        And it's funny.

        Although I'm not sure I would be laughing so heartily if I were his mother. Or his mother-in law.

        “Both of our parents were pretty hurt,” the 33-year-old high school English teacher says by telephone from his home in Boston. “But once you decide you're going to be honest, you can't be choosy about when you're going to tell the truth.”

        Even if the truth is that sometimes the people who are helping you get on your nerves. Even if you don't really enjoy the family slide show. Even if you don't like the way your mom does the dishes or combs your 5-year-old daughter's hair. So, maybe you don't say so at the time. But then you write it down for the rest of the world to read.

        “I know how Joan Crawford might feel,” his mother jokes.

        Brendan Halpin grew up in Cincinnati, graduated from the Seven Hills School, then went off to the University of Pennsylvania, where he met his wife, Kirsten.

No bystanders

        His mother, Peg Halpin, is a 911 operator for Hamilton County. Proud of the book her son wrote, she says she hopes it will help other men in the same situation. “Let them know they have a right to their own feelings.”

        That's the plan now. The original plan was just to fill the hours between 4 and 6 a.m. when Brendan couldn't sleep. While Kirsten was enduring high-dose chemo and a bone-marrow transplant, her young husband was “terrified that I was going to lose my best friend.”

        And he was thinking “all the other stuff that felt inappropriate or impossible to say to her.”

        As the bad news unfolds, “all I can think is, "How will I get Rowan to school?' And, "Oh, my God, does this mean my mom will have to move in with me?”

        He'll be back here on Tuesday, April 16, for a 7 p.m. book signing at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Norwood. Kirsten, who was diagnosed two years ago, is back at work. “She just had a scan, which was relatively clean,” Brendan says. “We're doing fine.”


        On April 27, thousands of people will gather at Sawyer Point on the riverfront for the fifth annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. (Friday is the deadline to register at Hundreds of women will be there in pink ball caps, signifying that they are breast cancer survivors. The rest are family and friends and neighbors and co-workers.

        And many, many “worried men.” They are in the race. They are not on the sidelines.

        The official Worried Man says, “I hope my book helps other guys know they're not jerks if they don't always think positive thoughts. That you don't have to be a saint.” That you're not alone. Even at 4 a.m.

        You could say, I suppose, that this happened to Brendan Halpin's wife, not to him. But you would be wrong.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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