An advanced prostate cancer diagnosis can change a lot of things, including your relationship with your partner. But the two of you can respond in ways that could strengthen your connection.
Get Clear on What to Expect
Knowledge is power. If you understand the physical and sexual side effects that you could have during or after prostate cancer treatment, you'll be better prepared to handle them.
Ask your doctor what symptoms you might have and how you should manage them. Share the information with your partner, too.
"It helps to bring your partner to a few doctor's appointments so you can talk through what to expect, both right away and later down the line," says urologist S. Adam Ramin, MD, medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.
Most men who go through prostate cancer treatment have trouble getting or maintaining an erection in the first few months after treatment. Sometimes these problems can be long-lasting.
Radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and medications (including hormone therapy) are strong medicine, and their side effects can make you gain weight, lower your libido, and make you tired. Some treatments may give you urinary incontinence, too.
"These issues can be upsetting. But there's a lot you can do to manage them," Ramin says.
For example, after treatment, men with erectile problems may be able to get erections with the help of medications, injections, or surgeries (such as penile implants).
"Being proactive about your health can improve your self-confidence, which makes you more likely to stay intimate with your partner," Ramin says.
Be Extra Affectionate
It's important to keep the warmth of your relationship going. Hugs, kisses, and just touching your partner are good ways to connect.
"Be affectionate, be available, and pay more attention to each other than you think you need to," says Stan Tatkin, PsyD, assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Make eye contact, too. Not only will you be less stressed, you and your partner will feel like you're in it together."
Sex may take a backseat during treatment, and that's OK. After treatment, though, you may give your partner the wrong impression if you avoid all sexual contact -- not just intercourse. She may think you don't find her desirable or attractive any more. That can cause tension or fights.
"Sex doesn't have to be about erections," says Daniel N. Watter, EdD, a psychologist and board-certified sex therapist. "There are many ways to be sexual. Bringing your partner pleasure can be a great experience for both of you."
Go to the Pros
If you and your partner have trouble with sexual or emotional closeness when you're in the middle of dealing with cancer, see a therapist for couples.
"Many men find it hard to take that leap and see a therapist, but as a doctor, I explain to patients that it's often an important part of the treatment process," Ramin says.
The same goes for your physical health. If you're having issues with erections, orgasms, or incontinence, tell your doctor.
"There are so many treatments that can make a big difference in your quality of life," Ramin says.
Keep at It
Even if you find you and your partner struggle with your relationship at times, "know that it does get better," Watter says. "Your relationship doesn't have to deteriorate. In fact, many couples say that in spite of everything, dealing with prostate cancer made them stronger than ever."