A prostate cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Your stress levels may skyrocket. You may worry about finances. And you may be asking yourself hard questions, such as whether to write a will or to complete advance directives. With education and supportive care, you will be able to deal with the many issues and emotions you're facing.
The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel you are having trouble coping. Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of your chronic illness.
Some tips to get you started:
- Do not hesitate to ask your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider to repeat any instructions or medical terms you don't understand. Your medical team should always be available to answer your questions and address your concerns.
- Make use of resources and support services offered by your hospital and in the community. Learning more about your disease will help you feel more at ease with your treatment.
- Ask your family and friends to help you sort through the information you receive.
- Talk with other patients and families about prostate cancer and its treatment.
There are many sources of support for patients and their families. These include:
- Social workers. These professionals can help ease any concerns you and your family may have about your diagnosis, your treatment, or your personal situation. Social workers can also offer education, counseling about lifestyle changes, and referrals to community or national agencies and support groups. Your social worker can help your family find temporary lodging, provide information about community resources, and help you with other needs.
- Individual counseling. Sometimes, people have problems that are better addressed in a one-on-one setting. With individual counseling, you may be better able to express sensitive or private feelings you have about your illness and its impact on your life. Mental health professionals can help you regain a sense of control over your life. At times, if you have depression, medicines other than those treating the physical illness may be prescribed.
Palliative care specialists, or those trained in pain management, are also available to create a treatment plan to meet your needs.
- Support groups. Support groups are a very useful sharing experience. They provide an environment where you can learn new ways of dealing with your illness. Sometimes, others who have been through similar experiences can explain things differently than your health care providers. You may also want to share approaches you've found that work for you. And you'll gain strength in knowing that you're not facing hardships alone. Remember that others may share information or experiences that do not apply to you. Never replace your doctor's advice with that given by another patient.
- Financial counselors. Financial counselors are available through your hospital and can help answer questions you may have about financial issues related to your medical care. Find out what your insurer will cover and what they won’t. In some cases, you may be able to get supplemental insurance if you need it. In addition, some nonprofit organizations can help you with expenses like job loss as well as travel and accommodation expenses for treatment.
Consider a Second Opinion
It’s not unusual to want a second opinion about how to treat your disease. Most doctors welcome other medical points of view for a complex disease like prostate cancer. They might even recommend a colleague for the second opinion.
Your first doctor will typically send over all of the tests and lab results to the second doctor to make an assessment. A second opinion can help provide balance and lessen anxiety about your chosen treatment path.
Check with your insurer to make sure they will cover the cost of a second opinion.
Ways to Manage Stress
Prostate cancer is often a stressful situation. Here are some tips that may help.
- Adjust your expectations. For example, if you have a list of 10 things you want to get done today, figure out which seem most important today (that is, prioritize), and leave the rest for other days. A sense of accomplishment and control like this goes a long way to reducing stress.
- Talk to others about your diagnosis. Family and friends can be helpful if they can put themselves in your shoes. Cancer groups can be a source of support as well.
- Activities that distract you can also be helpful. For example, reading or listening to music require little physical energy but some attention.
Relaxation Techniques Can Help
A number of exercises can help you relax. These include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, relaxation to music, and biofeedback. A few you can try are listed below.
First, be sure that you’re in a quiet place that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position (sit or recline on a chair or sofa), and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.
- Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel more relaxed.
- Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peace," or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.
- Deep breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill your belly with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, and then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
Taking Control of Your Health Care Decisions
Information about advance directives, such as living wills and durable power of attorney for health care decisions, are available to you.
A living will provides clear instructions regarding a person's choice of extended or aggressive types of medical care, such as whether you wish machines to be used to prolong life, or whether you wish an attempt to be made to restart your heart if it stops. This document is prepared while you can make your own medical decisions, in case you are unable to do so at a later time.
The durable power of attorney for health care decisions gives you the right to appoint another person to speak for you if you can't express your medical treatment preference. Each state has its own advance directive document, including a living will and durable power of attorney for health care.
Finally, you may wonder if you should write a will. The answer is yes. No one likes to think about their own mortality, but everyone should have a will to make sure that those who survive you will know how to carry out your wishes about your possessions and other aspects of your estate. This document should be prepared with your attorney.