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How to Handle the Emotions of a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

January 10, 2019

This is the second installment of a two-part series on the effects of prostate cancer on relationships.

Now that you’ve just been told you have prostate cancer, your urologist can explain every possible way the disease affects the body and what you can do about it.

But psychologically, you’re on your own.

“Doctors often focus on the ‘good news’ that your prostate cancer has been diagnosed so early,” says Dr. Ila Sabino, a Tallwood Men’s Health clinical health psychologist, “not understanding the meaning it has to the man, his partner and his family.”

You’ll feel shock, sadness, anger and this-can’t-be-happening-me disbelief. And so will your wife or partner.

“It’s not uncommon for the man and his partner to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression during this initial period,” says Dr. Sabino. “These symptoms tend to improve within 6-12 months after diagnosis.”

Many men with prostate cancer have trouble communicating — even more than usual  — as they avoid talking about their feelings after  the diagnosis. They just want to get their life back to normal.

Yet a cancer diagnosis is no time to retreat emotionally. To improve communication, Dr. Sabino says:

Make time to talk:  What needs to be said is important, so treat the conversation like a meeting or appointment. Set up a time and minimize distractions
Use “I” statements: “I feel really worried and alone when you don’t tell me what you’re thinking.” Or: “I don’t want sex as often as you seem to want it”
Name the problem: Think about what’s on your mind in a clear, simple way. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, off-topic or bogged down by lots of small things during an emotional conversation.
Don’t nitpick: It’s understandable to want to get everything, no matter how small, off your chest that’s bothering you, but it’s important to remember that some things are more important than others and talking about the big things will feel more meaningful than keeping a tally of all the small ones.
Stay calm: It’s normal for some people to become emotional when talking about important issues, especially related to the health of a loved one, but you might have a more satisfying discussion by keeping your emotions in check.  Sip water, take deep breaths and remind yourself that you are “in control” of your body.

If you need help beyond your partner or family, start with a local support group. “They’re a great way to connect with others who are going through the same experience,” says Dr. Sabino. “They can also offer education, practical advice and emotional support.”

If you’d rather address your concerns individually, a psychotherapist can offer valuable emotional and help you process the entire prostate cancer experience, from diagnosis to treatment and recovery. A psychotherapist can also help if your cancer diagnosis has strained your relationship with your partner.

“Get help for you relationship,” says Dr. Sabino. “Try a session and see how it feels. The counselor should focus not just on struggles, but on strengths of the relationship as well. Couples therapy can increase the feeling of closeness to your partner, facilitate personal growth and improve emotional insight.”

Sometimes, your doctor might recommend a psychotropic medication for depression, anxiety or other issue related to your disease. For some men, though, exercise, yoga, massage or acupuncture can provide relief and comfort — without a prescription.

For the partner, Dr. Sabino suggests giving the man “permission” to get upset, to be emotional and encourage him to talk about his feelings after the diagnosis.

“And if clarification is needed,” says Dr. Sabino, “don’t be afraid to reach out to doctors and nurses for more information.”

It might be difficult to imagine after a prostate cancer diagnosis, but enduring a major crisis or trauma can mark the beginning of personal or spiritual growth, says Dr. Sabino.

“The struggle can actually result in a positive change,” she says. “It could be a greater appreciation of life, improved relationships or seeing new possibilities in life. You can also feel a greater sense of personal strength and resilience or experience spiritual change.”

Read the first part of the series here.

To find out more about behavioral health services at Tallwood Men’s Health, click here. Or call 860.678.5700 for more information.