No man wants to hear that they have the “C-word:” Cancer. Unfortunately, 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. A prostate cancer diagnosis can range from localized curable disease to disease that has spread outside of the prostate gland to other parts of the body (most commonly lymph nodes, bone, lungs, and liver). Regardless of the stage of prostate cancer, hearing that you have cancer will likely spark a range of emotions. Many men will feel anxious, overwhelmed, and afraid. Famously described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, the five stages of grief (which may occur in any order), are often similar to what patients will go through when processing a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer. You will likely experience these feelings as well.
The 5 Stages of Grief
- Denial: Feeling numb and carrying on for a period of time as if nothing has happened
- Anger: Feeling angry towards oneself or others
- Bargaining: Making deals with oneself, or perhaps with God, that if one acts in a particular way, everything will be fine
- Depression: Feeling sad and/or hopeless
- Acceptance: Accepting the diagnosis. This usually happens gradually over time.
There are many different ways to cope with the stress of a prostate cancer diagnosis (which will certainly vary for each individual), but generally, these strategies may include the following:
- Learn about your prostate cancer diagnosis. Gather information to make an educated decision regarding treatment options.
- Maintain communication. Let both your loved ones and your health care providers know how you’re feeling and thinking.
- Anticipate possible physical changes. This is particularly true for men undergoing radical prostatectomy who may experience post-operative urinary leakage and erectile dysfunction; for men undergoing radiotherapy who may have effects on urinary and bowel function; and for men undergoing hormone treatments who may have hot flushes, mood changes, and other effects.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat well and exercising regularly.
- Accept help from family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially during radiotherapy and after surgery (post-radical prostatectomy).
- Determine your goals and priorities. Make time for the activities that are most important to you.
- Try to maintain a normal (as much as possible) lifestyle. There is comfort in a daily routine that is familiar.
- Review how prostate cancer may impact your finances. Unexpected expenses may arise after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, including financial constraints associated with the treatment of localized prostate cancer, medications for advanced prostate cancer, and effects of treatment on the ability of you and your family members to work. More than 15% of men with localized prostate cancer may face extreme financial hardship related to their treatment. This is important to discuss with your physician when considering your treatment choices
- Talk to other men who have had prostate cancer. Talking with other men who understand what you’re going through can be very helpful. This is particularly true when you’re considering a type of treatment for localized prostate cancer. It is often helpful to talk to other men that have undergone radiation, surgery, or active surveillance.
- Develop your own coping strategy. This may include praying/meditating, yoga/relaxation techniques, journaling, and more depending on what works for you.
Although a prostate cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event in a man’s life, rest assured that your healthcare team has walked this journey with many men before you. Additionally, many cancer centers have patient support groups, as well as psycho-oncologists on staff to support patients. These are experts in providing specialized mental and emotional support from the time of diagnosis through treatment, and beyond.
It is important to acknowledge that visiting with these support groups or psycho-oncology providers is not a sign of weakness, but rather a very important step for helping men develop coping mechanisms for their prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. When assisting men with coping with stress after a prostate cancer diagnosis, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Coping strategies should be individualized based on your goals, background, and social situation to help you move beyond a prostate cancer diagnosis and cope through treatment and follow-up.