If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself -- and your loved ones -- comes down to two words: Reach out. Getting support from others not only eases your stress, but may actually help with the recovery process.
Know What to Expect
The more you know about how your cancer and its treatments are likely to affect you, the better you can prepare. Then you won't have to scramble for support in a crisis. It can feel empowering, too.
Make a list of questions to ask your doctor about what you might expect, and write down the answers. Many men with advanced prostate cancer struggle with pain, fatigue, and treatment side effects like moodiness and incontinence. On a practical level, those things can take a toll on your:
- Relationships and social life
- Duties at home
If you have a spouse or partner, they may be your primary caregiver. Think about other friends, family members, and acquaintances who might be willing to lend a hand when you need it. Social services agencies and advocacy groups can help, too.
Talking About Your Cancer
Your prostate cancer might feel like the last thing you want to talk about. But open communication can help you feel better and strengthen your relationships. When people understand what you're dealing with, they often want to support you in other ways, too.
It's not always easy. Some friends or family members may feel uncomfortable talking about cancer, or be afraid of upsetting you. Those closest to you could worry they’ll say the wrong thing or not know what to do.
It helps to let others know when and whether you want to talk about your condition. Be direct and honest about your needs and wishes. And don't feel guilty if you feel better just spending time with your loved ones, talking about everyday things, and doing activities you enjoy.
Instead of family members or friends, some men prefer to open up to a counselor or to others who are in their shoes.
Join a Support Group
Finding community when you're affected by a condition that 250,000 U.S. men face each year isn’t hard.
Your hospital or medical community, or the local office of the American Cancer Society, can point you to in-person support groups. These, in turn, can help you find other resources in your area, from caregivers and house cleaners to the best takeout food in town.
Online groups offer a broader spectrum and more people who can share hope, company, stress relief, ways to cope, treatment options, and more. You can find a group through the Prostate Cancer Foundation or CancerCare websites, among others.
Some support groups allow partners and spouses to participate as well.
Get Day-to-Day Assistance
Local and online resources offer valuable information to help you and your caregiving team figure out the best ways to help. Point them to websites that cover caregiving basics so you won’t have to repeat the same info to lots of different people. For example, the American Society of Clinical Oncology offers an online guide to caring for a loved one.
Helpers do best with structure and specific to-dos. You or one of your caregivers can start by giving family, friends, and other helpers simple, bite-sized tasks. They might be as simple as going with you to a medical appointment or bringing over a casserole.
You can create a running online list, using a free tool such as Google Docs, that everyone on your caregiving team can pull up to see what’s going on. Or simply post a list at your door where people can stay up on key info and check off tasks.
Helping has a learning curve, too. Try to say “thank you” whenever you can, even if what they’re doing isn’t perfect or the way you’d have done it yourself. The next time, they might perform the task better.
When You Need More Help
At some point, you may need more support than your family and friends can reasonably provide. The best time to hire help -- whether it's a nurse, personal care aide, or home care companion -- is before the need becomes critical.
Ask your health care team what services might be right for you. Many hospitals can point you to a home health care service or other resources.
If you have private insurance, ask your insurer what's covered. Medicare and Medicaid may cover home care, if your doctor says you need it. Some nonprofits and government groups may provide services or funds toward home care. You and your care team can tap into organizations such as:
- The American Cancer Society
- The Caregiver Action Network
- United Way
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Some churches and community organizations provide volunteer care, too.
What Works for You
When it comes to emotional support, what's best for you is whatever feels most healing. Depending on your needs and personality, that might be seeing a therapist, hanging out with your family, spending time in nature, or seeking spiritual guidance. Pay attention to what brings you joy, and make time for those things in your daily life.
(Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)
Alyx Barnett, PhD, naturopath, Volcano, Hawaii.
Prostate Cancer Foundation: “Support Groups.”
CancerCare: Prostate Cancer Patient Support Group
University of California San Francisco Health: "Patient's Guide to Prostate Cancer: Some Helpful Hints."
Cancer Research UK: "Coping and support when you have prostate cancer," "Support for family and friends."
American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Caring for a Loved One,” "Hiring Home Care Services."
Canadian Cancer Society: "Supportive care for prostate cancer."