When a doctor looks you in the eye and says, “You have prostate cancer,” is a defining moment in a man’s life but also in the life of his partner. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men and many wives, girlfriends, and others will become a part of this new phase of facing cancer together. However, this unexpected role no one wants to take on is not an easy one to navigate. Knowing what to do, what to say and how to support your loved one can be tricky.
The first thing to know is that both of you will be scared, both of you will be stressed by the diagnosis, but both of you need each other more than ever. By facing a diagnosis of cancer together united as a couple, will make each of you stronger, more committed and better able to face head on this villain called cancer and more likely to beat it back into submission.
But each man’s journey of prostate cancer is unique with hills and valleys to maneuver. Knowing what to expect can help provide insight in how to respond with care and compassion taking your relationship to the next level.
· Educate yourself on prostate cancer and its treatments
Treating prostate cancer is based on how advanced and aggressive it is. If the cancer is slow growing, a man may be advised to do active surveillance in which he is closely monitored by his doctor to see if the cancer progresses. Men with more advanced and or aggressive prostate cancer may need to have surgery to remove the prostate or possibly radiation therapy, cryotherapy, hormone therapy or chemotherapy.
Each treatment will have its own possible side effects that can range from urinary, bowel, or erectile dysfunction to fertility loss and side effects of hormone or chemotherapy.
Being there for him can make a huge difference on how he responds to what he will have to go through to conquer this disease. Going with him to his doctor’s appointments, treatments, taking notes, keeping a journal of what was said or done, asking questions, and educating yourself on prostate cancer can be invaluable ways to show your support and concern for him during this difficult time.
· Be his advocate
Now more than ever, your man will need you to be his advocate. All of us in stressful situations need someone with us who is our anchor and advisor helping us see the big picture and what needs to be addressed.
For example, men often will be too shy about bringing up issues dealing with sex. Simply writing down the questions he needs to ask such as “I’m having trouble getting an erection. What medications would you suggest” can be a good way to get the conversation going with the doctor opening the door to fixing the problem. Sitting there in the exam room with your man allows you to ask the doctor about intimate questions concerning you and the future health of your sex life as a couple.
· Keep communication open offering reassurance
Men like to look and act strong even in uncertain times. Talking about his diagnosis of prostate cancer, what he is going through and how all of it is affecting your relationship is vitally important to keep the lines of communication open. This is uncharted territory for both of you and no one expects either of you to know all the answers on what to say or do. But working together as unit, as a couple, can help each of you cope with the changes that may be developing.
Men with prostate cancer may not voice it but they often struggle with worries of loss of virility, how their body will function after treatment, and how you will perceive them. Playing the role of “emotional rock” can be tough as you might be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Your partner will not expect you to be perfect. There will be times of trial when things don’t go well. But the most important thing to do for your man is to show your support by showing acts of love and kindness. When they can know, see, and feel the reassurance that you are not giving up on them will make a world of difference for your man. When he sees that you will be with him every step of his cancer ordeal, it will be the most encouraging and uplifting feeling he needs to win the battle of prostate cancer.