Dealing with Your Diagnosis

When you are told you have cancer, very often it becomes a life-changing experience for you, your family and close friends. There is a lot to come to terms with and the news can be a great shock and throw you into confusion. It is not uncommon to have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, feeling alone, loss of confidence and control, but this usually gets easier as the shock wears off and the situation becomes more real to you. There is no ‘right’ way of reacting to the diagnosis; everyone reacts in their own way. No matter the exact words that describe the results of your prostate biopsy, a diagnosis of prostate cancer forever changes everything. It can be confusing and overwhelming.

Fear of the future

Uncertainty about the future is one of the hardest feelings to deal with, and you could feel irritable, angry and frightened. It is normal to worry about dying if you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis. Many people find it helps to find out as much as possible about prostate cancer and in particular the ‘stage’ that you have been diagnosed with and what is likely to happen. As a newly diagnosed patient, you might be confused by arguments favouring one treatment over another or you may feel ill-equipped to make the decisions that are being required of you. Not everyone feels this way, but it is worth discussing this with your doctors or nurse specialist, as they know your situation and treatment options and should be able to advise. You could write down some questions listed in the next pages beforeyou next see your consultant.

Remember that not all prostate cancers need be treated. Many are so slow growing that they may never cause a problem in your lifetime.

Only the more aggressive types need active treatment.

Helping yourself

Think positively. Look at your treatment options, along with the side effects, so you know what to expect. They are all detailed in this booklet. Be as active as you can; the fitter you are the better your body will be able to cope with treatment. Think more about your diet; this is a way that you can make a difference in fighting the disease. Find someone to talk to about prostate cancer. It could be someone close to you, a counsellor, someone on your medical team or someone you may meet at a support group meeting. It is often useful to talk to a ‘professional stranger’. It is always useful to offload what is going on in your head and find answers. Try to manage stress by learning techniques to relax. If you or your partner find yourself badly affected by the stresses of your cancer, take action and seek further support from your GP, your local mental health line, Macmillan Cancer Support or Penny Brohn UK.

After treatment

Many men survive prostate cancer that has been diagnosed in the early stages, but for some the treatment can be hard on your body and it can take some time before you feel fit again. Some men have side effects that gradually improve, while for others these can be ongoing or delayed. Not everyone experiences side effects, but some may experience difficulty sleeping, feeling weaker and more tired, lost or gained weight, stiffness in muscles or joints.

If you are worried about erectile dyfunction or urinary problems following treatment, read the Living with and Surviving Prostate Cancer section. It may help to put your mind at ease. There are on-line communities or forums for prostate cancer, where men can share their treatment experience and ask questions of others. These can be an effective way dealing with prostate cancer together.

Local support groups also have meetings where men get together to share their experiences of treatment and living with the disease. Here you can often offload worries and know that someone within the group understands what you are going through, or just listening to other men talking about their treatment journey can help.

On-going treatment

Some men will be diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and be put on Hormone treatment. Other men, in the early stages of localised cancer, will be put on active surveillance. In both cases the treatment can be long-term and on-going. If you are on Hormone treatment, in some hospitals there is a specialist nurse who can do a holistic assessment and help prescribe or refer you to other agencies that can help. If you are on Active Surveillance, some men find this to be quite stressful and are so concerned at having cancer in the body without having radical treatment to remove it that they opt for surgery or radiotherapy with all the possible side effects those treatments carry. The best way of avoiding anxiety over whether you should have radical treatment or stay on Active Surveillance is to educate yourself fully on the facts about prostate cancer. You are then able to make a logical decision on what is right for you. Reading this section of the Tackle website fully is one way of doing that.

Lifestyle changes

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help your body recover from treatment, reduce the side effects of treatment, including fatigue, that affect many cancer sufferers and reduce risk of relapse. Some find that changing lifestyle increases confidence in living with, or even controlling, their disease. For prostate cancer sufferers, lifestyle change can reduce the rate of PSA progression, an important indicator of the state of the disease. It’s also important to remember that cancer survivors often have more health problems than people of similar age and background. Lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and regular exercise, can and do mitigate general health problems. For more see Exercise, Diet and Lifestyle.

REMEMBER: Take control of your cancer: don’t let it control you.

Many men gain enormous benefit from talking to other men who have experienced the same problems and local prostate cancer support groups can help a great deal.

Some facts

    • Psychological distress is currently not being assessed or managed well in men living with prostate cancer, despite just under a third of men reporting moderate or extreme anxiety or depression.

    • Depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue, pain and psychosocial factors can affect patients with prostate cancer. These factors can occur as a result of impotence, erectile dysfunction, sexual issues and incontinence.

    • Prostate cancer patients may also suffer a loss of self-confidence, which may be a particular issue in the period shortly after completion of primary treatment and this loss of self-confidence may be a significant barrier to accessing support.