The diagnosis of cancer in the prostate gland is always shocking and concerning.
Even if doctors try to calm you down by saying that prostate cancer growth is usually slow, the word cancer has horrible connotations.
In some cases, living with prostate cancer is not a big problem, and you’ll be okay with active surveillance only. But what if you’re one of those patients who struggle with severe symptoms of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer can become an emotional burden due to new physical and financial challenges. It not only impacts the cancer patients but also on their family and loved ones.
Still, you can find comfort in the middle of the storm. There are many ways to cope with prostate cancer and its symptoms.
Health care providers will always be there to take care of your treatment. Your loved ones are probably very eager to support you during these challenging times. But even if everything else fails, you can choose how to deal with your disease (1).
Prostate cancer is, in theory, easy to manage. Doctors have protocols and guides to make every step rationally. But what about how you feel? And what can you do about it?
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How can prostate cancer affect you?
There’s not an easy way out of cancer. Receiving the diagnosis is a shock. Living and coping can be quite difficult. And treatment is sometimes difficult or painful. We’re listing in this section some challenges prostate cancer patients face. In the following section, we’re addressing them one by one and giving you a few coping strategies that you can try (1).
Prostate cancer is not only a physical problem. It also has emotional consequences. Your doctor should know, your family should know, and you should accept that as well. You may need some support to cope with new thoughts and feelings after being diagnosed (2):
- Anger, shock, fear: These emotional responses are all-natural after being diagnosed. After some time, you may end up experiencing all of them.
- Denial: It is not easy accepting that you have prostate cancer if you do not have symptoms. Most cases of prostate cancer are slow-growing. But neglecting your condition is not an option.
- Frustration: Your plans were probably different before this diagnosis. Everything changes, and you’re likely to feel disappointed and frustrated
- Stress: This is quite difficult to control because there are all types of changes around you. Changes cause stress, especially if you’re afraid and feel uncertain. Feeling worried about the side effects is another source of stress and anxiety.
- Identity problems: You may feel changes in physical strength, in your sex life, and your body in general. You may even need to stop working for some time to focus on your treatment options. This triggers changes in your family and your role as a man.
Prostate cancer affects your physical health. It causes several urinary symptoms and other health problems. Cancer treatment is also a physical challenge due to its side effects. However, most side effects and several symptoms can be treated successfully.
These are challenges you’re likely facing if you have prostate cancer (1, 3):
- Fatigue: This medical term means feeling extreme tiredness. It is experienced by up to 74% of prostate cancer patients. You can even feel tired after resting appropriately. In many cases, patients can no longer perform their daily activities. This symptom typically worsens if you undergo hormone therapy.
- Urinary symptoms: They are progressive in these cases, and sometimes very severe. Even after treatment, you may still experience urinary symptoms. Some people have sudden urinary retention that feels very painful and is a medical emergency. In these cases, do not neglect your symptoms and look for medical help.
- Bowel symptoms: Radiation therapy often causes bowel problems such as diarrhea and bleeding. In some cases, it is a slight problem that goes away after a while. In others, changes are severe and sometimes permanent.
- Sexual problems: Prostate cancer does not usually cause sexual problems. But depending on your treatment, it may reduce your sexual drive. In some cases, they lead to erectile dysfunction and other concerning sexual issues.
- Pain: This is not a symptom in all prostate cancer patients. But you may feel pressure or pain in your rectum. And if prostate cancer has spread to the bones, you may feel bone pain. Some treatments may also cause pain.
- Depression: You can feel depressed at any time. Depression is perceived differently for each one of us. It is not always about bursting into tears, even though this may be a symptom. Sometimes it is a sense of hopelessness and unhappiness. You may start losing interest in things you used to enjoy. It is sometimes felt as tiredness, sleep problems, and appetite changes. Irritability and anger are sometimes caused by depression, too.
Prostate cancer is a challenge for men who are used to work and be the primary source of income at home. Many of them have experienced these problems:
- Working life issues: Prostate cancer patients often need time off to complete their treatments. They sometimes need time to recover, as in surgery, and avoid physical tasks. If you’re instructed by your doctor to keep rest, do not feel tempted to go back to work before it’s considered safe. Treatment side effects are also a source of concern in working men. These are sometimes extended for longer than you thought, and it can turn into a frustrating experience.
- Money struggles: Financial costs of prostate cancer can be challenging for some, especially if your work is compromised. Depending on the hospital, medical costs can be higher. Some therapies are quite expensive, and not all countries have free prescriptions.
How to cope
If you’re experiencing similar challenges, there are several ways to cope. We’re giving you a few strategies and recommendations below (1, 2):
- Fatigue: If you’re under hormonal therapy, fatigue is likely to improve after you’re done. Certain health conditions and other problems can contribute to your fatigue symptoms. Your doctor or nurse can help you find out if something else is making it worse. In any case, you can cope with fatigue by planning ahead and taking your activities slowly. Give yourself more time and be patient with yourself and your own body. Sleep properly, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of fluids, and try to stay active with some walking, stair climbing, and other low-impact activity.
- Urinary symptoms: Some treatment and lifestyle changes improve urinary symptoms in prostate cancer. Your doctor will help you in this regard. It is essential to drink plenty of fluids while reducing the consumption of coffee, tea, and cola drinks. Pelvic floor muscle exercises may also help you with your urinary symptoms. And do not neglect your body weight, as obesity increases the bladder’s pressure and worsens the urinary problems. You may also need to plan ahead and carry extra underwear and other tools in case of an accident.
- Bowel symptoms: You can ask your doctor or nurse for medications to control your bowel symptoms. In these cases, you might also want to reduce your fiber intake. Avoid foods that cause bloating, such as broccoli, beans, and fizzy drinks. Plan ahead and take extra underwear and absorbent pads if you feel it’s convenient.
- Sexual problems: These may improve with treatment, and your doctor can help you with that. Do not feel ashamed or afraid to ask about it and report your problems. Be flexible around sex and enjoy all types of physical contact, not only penetrative sex. Recovering your erections is easier when performance anxiety reduces. Talk to your partner about it to get support and give yourself time to recover your sexual function after surgery. Not smoking and doing pelvic floor exercises may also help you recover faster.
- Pain: It is usually treated with pain-relieving drugs, bisphosphonates, nerve blocks, and other types of treatment. Some complementary therapies may also help. In some cases, medical treatment and emotional support are both critical to fully recover.
- Working life problems: Your working life could be affected depending on the type of therapy you’re going through. You can recover faster than other men or take more time to feel better. In any case, follow the instructions by your doctor and communicate your concerns. If you’re going through radiotherapy, let your doctor know about your work. In some cases, you may continue working without a problem. In others, working after receiving radiotherapy may not be a good idea. It may be a good idea to take a part-time job, and some men opt for early retirement. In many countries, cancer is considered a disability, and your work is protected by law. So, you can keep working by adopting modifications such as time off, extra breaks, or different assignments and tasks.
- Money struggles: These problems are pervasive and difficult to handle. But you can access a company’s sick pay or statutory sick pay. In some countries, cancer treatment is free, and you only need to fill certain forms. Be sure to take the certificates with you to get your free prescriptions if that’s the case. If you have other financial problems, you can also look for government associations that offer free advice and financial assistance for people like you.
Emotional support is essential in all cancer patients, including prostate cancer. We should not mistake coping with being positive all the time. You’re allowed to feel sad, angry, or disappointed.
There are good days, but sometimes you have bad days as well. Whatever you do and how you feel, it is possible to make the most of your days and get through the hardships. That is what coping is about, and you can find emotional support if you need it.
If you do not want to include someone else in your process, that is completely fine. But ask yourself why that is. Is it because you can handle the situation by yourself? Or is it because you’re afraid or feel uncomfortable about speaking about it?
When nobody is watching or judging you, ask yourself this question. If you’re only scared or feel uncomfortable, remember that this sensation is temporary. After giving the first step, most men feel better and are no longer hesitant to give another step and look for help and support (4).
What can you do to keep your emotional wellbeing?
- Understand prostate cancer: Be sure to understand the disease you’re going through. Get acquainted with prostate cancer causes, risk factors, treatments, and helpful information. Sometimes, patients with low-grade and non-aggressive prostate cancer worry too much about their condition when they are highly unlikely to have severe complications. In other cases, fear and anxiety are based on not knowing what happens when you’re under treatment and what follows after that. Understanding prostate cancer and communicating your concerns to your doctor can help a lot.
- Be active: Physical activity is a great way to cope with prostate cancer. If you can be more active, do not hesitate to make changes to your lifestyle. Exercise lifts your mood and makes you feel more energetic. It releases dopamine and other chemicals that your brain uses to make you feel better. Staying active can be difficult in some cases, but even light physical activity can have a positive impact.
- Look after yourself: Some men with prostate cancer are not used to think about what they want and need. They are often focused on taking care of the family and watching over technical details to keep everybody happy. When you receive a diagnosis such as this, it is time to think about yourself for a while. Take time to look after your physical and emotional needs. Try to relax and learn stress management techniques when you feel up to it. Listen to your favorite music, engage in activities you like. All of this will help you feel better and cope with your diagnosis.
- Keep up with your goals: Many things change after a prostate cancer diagnosis. But many other things stay the same. You probably need to make adjustments to your goals and hobbies. But keeping your motivation, planning things, and setting yourself new goals can help you cope with the disease. You don’t need to stop being social, and you definitely want to keep enjoying your hobbies. All of this changes your atmosphere and makes you feel positive, knowing that life continues after this, and you can still have a future.
- Talk to your loved ones: Talking to your relatives is an important first step. They are probably anxious about the diagnosis. Try not to feel irritated by their attention and questions. Instead, talk to them about what is happening and how you feel. This will reduce the tension and anxiety in your family, and you will feel better about it. Talk openly about your feelings and if you feel they do not understand your point, try with someone else.
- Get social support: Social support is fundamental for prostate cancer patients. These patients usually feel supported by their family members, but sometimes others play a significant role, too. Do not feel ashamed to ask for help in money-related issues, at work, or in your household tasks. Talk to your children and be honest about your condition. If you need help in this regard, look for ideas and information to find the best way for them to understand.
- Talk to a health professional: Professionals in this field are used to talk about this. You won’t probably say anything they haven’t heard before, and they do have suggestions that worked with other people in the past. Sometimes all they need to do is listening to you, and they know this will make you feel better. Your general practitioner, urologist, or nurse is an excellent place to start. Most of us think that doctors only focus on signs and symptoms. But be sure to communicate how you feel both emotionally and physically.
- Medications: Certain medications may be prescribed to you if you feel depressed or anxious. They are prescribed by your doctor, and only in particular situations. If you’re not a candidate for this type of drug, there is also complementary therapy. You can use many herbal and natural solutions to soothe you, help you recover your sleep, and reduce your anxiety levels. In any case, talk to your doctor about how you feel and follow his advice.
- Do not be afraid of therapy: Some people stigmatize counseling and therapy. They think this is for a weak person who can’t do anything by himself. But these professionals are trained to help all types of people, and that includes you. Even resilient and very strong people need a tap in the back or seeing everything in perspective from time to time. So, do not be afraid or ashamed to look for counseling and therapy.
- Local and online support groups: You’re not alone, and many men are walking the same road. Sometimes sharing your experience in a prostate support group meeting is good for everybody. You will get to know other stories and how they cope with mild or severe problems. Prostate cancer support groups are great ways to get acquainted with people who understand what you’re going through. Some of them allow spouses, women, and other family members in their group meetings (5).
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- Prostate Cancer and Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Women
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A myriad of changes follows after a prostate cancer diagnosis. These can be frightening, challenging, and very stressful for patients and family members. Treatment can be difficult, with potential side effects. The disease causes uncomfortable symptoms. And everything changes emotionally and financially.
As a prostate cancer patient, you’re not forced to be positive. You can have good and bad days. Still, there are many ways to cope with the disease and make it easier for yourself and for those you love.
Communication is the key to success in cancer treatment, and it is essential to control your symptoms. Your family can become a good source of support and encouragement, and you also have access to other support groups and organizations. And financially, there are aids and different organizations willing to help you overcome these obstacles and others yet to come.