Cancer tends to be spoken of in terms of the physical: side effects, pain and recovery. At LifeInsuranceProstateCancer.com, we focus a lot on proactively seeking treatment and keeping your body healthy.
For most men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the reaction is much the same. As men, we have a tendency to want to be strong emotionally during times of trial, and it may be tempting to purely focus on recovering from the physical side effects of prostate cancer and cancer treatments. Physical well being and health takes precedence.
But what about your emotional health?
No cancer is purely physical. Cancer impacts every aspect of your life and relationships – including your outlook. Following a diagnosis, you may find that you are depressed, angry or anxious about what is to come.
Taking the time to seek support for your emotional health and well being is a vitally important aspect to the recovery process.
How A Therapist Can Help
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, prostate cancer patients respond well to brief psychotherapy during their treatments. This includes support groups, and sessions with therapists. While the responses to therapy can be overwhelmingly positive, a lot of men are hesitant to participate in these therapy practices.
This study found that the reasons for not attending therapy boil down to two groups: men are uncomfortable expressing their emotions and men feel the need to maintain their role as provider and protector, even if it means ignoring the physical realities of their cancer.
This can cause strain in marriages and partnerships as the stress of a cancer diagnosis can be detrimental to a couple’s communication.
The good news is that men are more likely to attend therapy if their partner or spouse is present. Couples counseling may be needed to improve communication and help a couple cope with the realities of prostate cancer. A counselor can be an excellent third party used to help you and your partner communicate more openly and in more positive ways. ¹
Understanding the Impacts of Sexual Side Effects
Impotence and erectile issues are not just physical side effects. Most men are left wondering if they will be able to have sex again, and when their sex life will return to normal.
Perhaps one of the biggest worries expressed by men with prostate cancer is how certain therapies will impact their sex lives.
For example, most men express hesitation when choosing radical prostatectomy surgery, which could cause erectile problems for up to two years following surgery. After this type of treatment; however, 40-50% of men are able to return to normal sexual function one year after their surgery. 30-60% of men are able to return to their pre-surgery function within two years. ²
These numbers can be disheartening and may lead some men to choose an alternate form of therapy – even if it may not be right for their cancer. These numbers do not take many factors into account, including age, sexual health before your diagnosis, weight and additional medication.
This can cause problems in a marriage or partnership, as well as for single men who may avoid dating or sexual interaction altogether.
Speaking to a urologist before choosing a therapy can help ease your fears. Most cancer treatments are not completely without sexual side effects, and some men may be alarmed that even the most minimally invasive treatments could lower their sex drive.
Sexual side effects are common in most forms of treatment; anxiety and depression over treatment options can actually worsen sexual side effects, making recovery more difficult.
Following your surgery, you and your partner or spouse may want to consider speaking to a sex therapist. Sex therapy can help you and your partner communicate your sexual needs and, if necessary, can help you find alternative means of expressing and meeting those needs after your treatment. ³
Managing Your Emotions
A lack of spousal or partner communication, combined with sexual side effects of treatment and an unknown future create a powder keg of emotions that are often difficult to cope with.
Depression and anxiety are common emotional side effects of cancer that can be helped through therapy. Sometimes just knowing someone is listening is enough to help; other times, low-dose medications may be needed. Depression is a common symptom of most hormonal therapies, and low dose medications, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help with mood balance and easing anxiety. ⁴
A psychotherapist can help you cope with these emotions in other ways. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to is an immense help. A therapist can help you identify emotional triggers, cope with your emotions and help you understand how your thoughts and behaviors impact your emotional well being.
You Are Not Alone
Seeking emotional and psychological help during this time can improve your quality of life and help you recover more completely.
It is important to know that all men recover differently. Some men may benefit from traditional therapy and others may find that group therapies and support groups are more helpful. The important thing is to find the support system that is right for you.
Emotional and mental support comes in many forms, and seeing a traditional therapist may not be for everyone. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms before deciding which type of emotional support channel is right for you. In some cases, multiple support channels may be necessary to help you fully recover.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious about your cancer, talk to your doctor today. Additionally, the Prostate Cancer Foundation provides a long list of support groups for men dealing with various stages of their cancer, including “Us Too”, “Man to Man” and “Malecare”. ⁵
- Roth, A., Weinberger, M., & Nelson, C. (2008, January 1). Prostate Cancer: Quality of Life, Psychosocial Implications and Treatment Choices. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796196/
- Erectile Dysfunction. (n.d.). http://www.pcf.org/site/c.leJRIROrEpH/b.5836625/k.75D7/Erectile_Dysfunction.htm
- Family Life. (n.d.). http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/communicating-loved-ones/family-life
- Journal of Clinical Oncology. (2007, July 16). http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/25/27/4171.short
- Finding a Support Group. (n.d.). http://www.pcf.org/site/c.leJRIROrEpH/b.5856543/k.6599/Finding_a_Support_Group.htm