Empathy and support can help you both

Timothy Bradford, MD

Any time a loved one has cancer, our world changes. When a partner or family member receives a prostate cancer diagnosis, many sensitive issues can cloud thinking and communication. Understanding more about this cancer and what to expect is a good place to start seeking clarity.

It’s true that prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men. However, most men who are diagnosed with it will not die from it. Prostate cancer doesn’t grow or spread as quickly as many other types of cancer, so often a period of watchful waiting is the best course of immediate action. A low-risk tumor may not cause any problems for 10 or even 20 years. And treatment is constantly advancing and usually successful.

You will have questions and concerns immediately after diagnosis but supporting your loved one should be the top priority. He may need time to process his emotions such as fear, anger, or concerns about family and other commitments. You’ll want to be available to talk but understand if the time isn’t right.

When the loved one is your partner

If the loved one with prostate cancer is your partner, be aware that he may be concerned about his future: being there for family, treatment options and potential side effects. Be sensitive and consider the impact your words may have. Express your love and concern for his wellbeing, and let other concerns and questions wait until your partner and his healthcare team have planned a course of action.

Be aware that if surgery or other treatment is necessary, any side effects — including erectile dysfunction or incontinence — are usually temporary. However, recovering full function may take from a few months to a year or more in some cases. If necessary, both can be surgically corrected. In the meantime, there are many ways to be intimate.

You may feel helpless, but your support and care can make a huge, positive difference in your loved one’s life and frame of mind, now and in the future. In addition to emotional support, encourage your partner to eat a healthy, balanced diet, stay active and communicate openly. Encourage him to express emotions and cope in a healthy way.

When the going gets tough

If you become concerned about a loved ones’ mental wellbeing — or your own — reach out for help. A caring professional, support group or other resources can help you both cope with the changes, emotions, challenges or other issues. Make time for yourself and take one day at a time. Your partner and your relationship will be stronger and happier if you are strong and happy.