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Advanced prostate cancer is a disease, not an identity. However, a cancer diagnosis can certainly change the way a man views his world, and as part of that, his personal relationships. A man’s health status also affects family and friends who care about him. It may take some time for everyone to find the “new normal” in relationships. Some relationships will coast through the effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment; others may take more time and energy to navigate. To find out more, please choose a path below.
Talking About Advanced Prostate Cancer
Understandably, you may have mixed feelings about how to discuss your prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment with the people in your world, or you may not want to discuss it with some people at all. Once you decide who to share your health status with, it may be helpful to first figure out what information you want to give, and how you will phrase it. It is likely you will have different “messages” to share with close friends compared with acquaintances or coworkers, and with adult or teenage children compared with younger children, for instance.
It’s important to have someone you can share your concerns and feelings with, and for many men that may be their romantic partner, a sibling or best friend. Ask them if they are OK with just listening while you talk sometimes, giving advice when you ask for it, and understanding if sometimes you will be irritable and not in a mood to talk at all. Chances are they will appreciate your honesty and try to accommodate to your needs as much as possible.
Many times people just don’t know what to say when someone they care about has cancer. You might want to tell your friends and family that it’s alright to simply ask how you are, and you’ll decide whether to share a little or a lot that day, depending on how you feel. Many people in your life will also want to offer help but don’t want to intrude or are unsure of what you need. Providing them with concrete suggestions can give you the assistance you may need as you go through treatment, and it will also make them feel useful. For instance, you might ask them to prepare meals for days when you are tired and can’t do it yourself. Perhaps they can run errands and pick up groceries or library books for you, or drive you back and forth for medical appointments or treatments.
Sharing Your Journey
There are men who want to openly discuss their advanced prostate cancer diagnosis with other people. Some say it helps to “share the burden” with people close to them and that an open dialogue helps enhance these relationships. Others say they feel an obligation to share their story even more, including with casual acquaintances, hoping to raise awareness about prostate cancer risk. Some men feel it’s important to be open about their disease so they can better emotionally support other men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Other men may want to be more private about their disease. These men may want to participate in online discussions or virtual support groups that understand and respect when a man wishes to remain anonymous. One resource is the Us TOO International online discussion community, http://www.ustoo.org/InspireCommunity.asp.
You may depend a lot on your significant other, such as a spouse or partner, for physical and emotional support. Although you are the one undergoing treatment, try your best to understand that your significant other is likely to be worried and tired, too. Thinking of yourselves as a team who are in this treatment effort together can help you both. There are support groups, in-person and on the Internet, that provide information and peer support for patients and their partners. If you are hesitant to attend a support group yourself, consider asking a friend without prostate cancer to join you; sometimes just having a good buddy by your side can make you feel more comfortable in a new situation.
Certainly having advanced prostate cancer can affect your personal relationships; some may be tested while others will grow even stronger. There are many people who will want to come along for the ride—and these people may vary at different points along your journey.
What You Can Do
As the partner or primary caregiver for a man with advanced prostate cancer, you are likely to be under great pressure and strain yourself. In addition to taking care of your loved one physically, you are probably concerned with his emotional adjustment. You may also have the responsibility of serving as the “spokesperson” to communicate about his illness to other people in his life. Yet the partners of men with prostate cancer often do not know where or how to turn for the support they may need to get their loved ones and themselves through the twists and turns of treatment and daily life.
One important way you can help your partner is to open a discussion about how and what he’d like shared about his cancer with the different people in his life. You can help him make a list of who he wants to reach out to, what he’d like to convey to each, and when to do so. Encourage him to accept help from family, friends and neighbors who offer, and to reach out for help when needed.
Studies have shown that partners of men with prostate cancer may feel as much or more stress as the affected man himself. Because many men withdraw and resist communicating about their cancer, you may feel shut out and increasingly frustrated. In fact, a study of female spouses of men with prostate cancer found they did not receive enough informational and emotional support to help them cope with their husband’s cancer. The participants did report that online support groups with forums to share feelings and experiences helped them cope.
You can find support groups for men with prostate cancer and their partners on the Internet, or by asking your physician or a therapist. One resource is the Us TOO International online discussion community, http://www.ustoo.org/InspireCommunity.asp. There are women who initially join support groups for themselves and in turn become actively involved in providing emotional support for other partners or caregivers, or who reach out on an individual basis to affected people in their community.
You play a vital role in supporting your partner as he deals with advanced prostate cancer, but you also have needs that are real and important to acknowledge. Try to accept that you are only human and you are doing your best. Remember to take care of yourself, and reach out to family and friends when you need them.