The biopsy results have come back, and they confirm your worst fears – you have prostate cancer. Chances are that you are feeling a little overwhelmed by your diagnosis, by your emotions, and by questions about what to do next. Unless you are a health care professional, you probably have a great many questions about prostate cancer, how it is treated, and what your prognosis is. Emotionally, you may be experiencing a mix of fear, anger, depression, uncertainty, self-pity, and denial. Then there are the questions that no one likes to face: should I write a will; should I prepare a living will, should I appoint a health care proxy?
There is good news, though. First of all, prostate cancer is very treatable. These days, a diagnosis of cancer is far from an automatic death sentence. Second, you are not the first or only person ever to be confronted with these feelings, thoughts, and questions. You are following in the footsteps of a great many men who have a lot to teach you about coping with your diagnosis. Here are some of their excellent suggestions.
- Educate yourself about your diagnosis. Many cancer patients feel powerless and not in control of their lives. Learn as much as you can about prostate cancer and the treatment options available to you. This will help you regain a sense of control over your own destiny. Never be afraid to ask questions. Your doctor, nurse, and other practitioners should explain things to you in terms you can understand, not in technical medical jargon. If you don't understand, ask for clarification.
- Enlist the support of family and friends. Too often, patients who are diagnosed with a serious illness withdraw into themselves rather than openly discuss things with family and friends. It is important to keep these lines of communication open. Cancer isn't an individual diagnosis – it affects the whole family. The more people you have fighting in "your corner," the better. Isolating yourself will only deepen feelings of depression.
- Keep in mind that prostate cancer does not mean the end of your masculinity! Many men put off or avoid treatment due to fears of erectile dysfunction. After all, the prostate is an organ directly involved in sexual function. This is one case where educating yourself is important. There are many treatment options available to you, and loss of sexual function is not inevitability. If erectile dysfunction does happen to you, there are many excellent treatments for this, as well.
- Find a good support group. There are many such groups for both prostate cancer patients and their partners. Your oncologist or hospital social worker can be invaluable in guiding you to a group that is a good fit for you. Support groups provide many benefits. They can help you learn new ways of coping. They can help you put things in perspective. Most of all, you will gain the strength that comes from knowing you are not on your own.
- Be honest with your physician and yourself. Many men are embarrassed about the diagnosis and the procedures used for screening and treatment. Many feel guilty about not being screened for cancer sooner. The digital rectal exam is particularly anxiety-provoking for many men. It is important, however, that you be completely honest with your doctor about your symptoms, concerns, and feelings. Only by forming a solid partnership with your physician can you detect changes in your illness early and work out the best treatment plan for you.
- Surf the web. You would be amazed at how much information is available to you online. Some good places to start include the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the American Urological Association, and the American Foundation for Urologic disease. Not only will these websites give you a wealth of information about your illness, but also they will link you to online support groups and other invaluable resources. They will even have information about the latest studies and clinical trials you may want to ask your doctor about.
- Don't be embarrassed about seeking emotional help. Depression is common among cancer patients. If it starts to get the best of you, seek help. Individual therapy can be invaluable in helping you regain a sense of control over your life. If the depression is severe, there are medications that can help alleviate the symptoms.
- Keep good medical records. Keep written records of all your appointments, doctor's visits, and test results. This will help you track the progress of your recovery and remember key things you want to discuss with your health care providers.
- Do plan ahead. It's not easy thinking about the end of life, and it can be especially uncomfortable for someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Establishing a will, living will, and durable power of attorney will NOT jinx your treatment! They will, however, take a load off your mind.
- Never stop learning about prostate cancer. The world of medicine changes rapidly. What is true today, may not be true next year, or even next week! You can hardly pick a newspaper without reading about some new discovery or new advances in treatment. Try to keep aware of current studies and their findings. This brings me to my final point…
- Never give up hope.
I wish you and your family all the best as you embark on the road to recovery. Just remember that you are not alone and that there is help available to you – you just have to be proactive and ask for it!
Prostate Cancer Institute. http://www.prostate-cancer-institute.org/index.html
Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. http://www.rwjuh.edu/health_information/adult_prostate_cope.html