Prostate cancer affects both men and women. How can that be, you may ask, since prostate cancer is only diagnosed in men and transgender women. Doctors can treat prostate cancer in several ways, but all will affect a man’s capacity to be sexually active. Some treatments cause erectile dysfunction and some reduce testosterone to a level that is called, castrate. Yes, prostate cancer treatments either make a man impotent or completely without a sex drive. These are the prices some men choose to pay for a longer life.
Fortunately, there are strategies for making that longer life a happier life that includes lovemaking with one’s spouse or partner, if you are fortunate to have one.
Prostate cancer strikes men who are usually in the last years of their work life and looking forward to enjoying retirement. After diagnosis, their lives demand a balance between cancer treatments and quality of life challenges, like erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, sleep deprivation, financial stress and loss of meaning of their lives as men. For gay men, loss of sexuality as they previously enjoyed is a doubly devastating romantic and emotional challenge as their spouse or partner may well have or be vulnerable to prostate cancer, too.
Prostate cancer treatments have side effects that change how well men feel physically and emotionally. Spouses and partners sometimes attend prostate cancer support groups because of the newfound strife they are trying to repair in their relationships. Mood changes usually last for years and cause many relationships to dissolve. Fortunately, there is one strategy you can use, today, to stave off a sad future.
Few people talk unless they feel confident of two things: One, that someone is listening and Two, that no one will judge what they say. Be a listener. Listening creates space for validation and fearlessness. When your partner is fearless in expressing their concerns and feelings, they empty themselves of the pain of holding toxic thoughts. The listener builds their inner strength by seeing that emotions and worries are shared. No one is alone when the conversation occurs.
Accept what you hear. Even if you think your partner is merely talking about irrelevant things or nonsense, your non-judgmental posture will allow for many more rounds of conversation about his health. Stick with your nonjudgmental attitude to give him the safe space he seeks to share his deeper concerns about prostate cancer, his quality of life and your relationship with each other.
Here’s a bonus suggestion. Share what you are feeling. Let your partner know that he isn’t alone in fear and anguish. Reminisce about your first days and weeks and months together. Remind each other of the days when all seemed good and possible. Those days are not entirely over if you share the kind of conversations you had when you met.
You can meet couples sharing the same struggles at online support groups for prostate cancer. The online prostate cancer support groups are where thousands of men and women share their struggles and find strategies for rebuilding their lives. Please feel encouraged to keep enjoying life, together.
Darryl Mitteldorf, LCSW, Executive Director, Malecare.org, [email protected]