Opening up about the mental toll of prostate cancer and how to cope with it
To mark World Mental Health Day, we're highlighting the often overlooked emotional impacts of prostate cancer. We spoke to men with the disease about their mental health challenges and ask what their, our Specialist Nurses' and your tips are for maintaining your emotional wellbeing.
It sounds obvious but can so easily be ignored: the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer can take a huge mental toll. From the initial shock of hearing the 'C-word' to the helpless feelings during treatment that your life is no longer in your control, the range of emotions men go through can be vast. So what can you do to help manage these difficult feelings?
Get informed, feel empowered
Rod Coverley powerfully described his suicidal thoughts after he was first diagnosed. "I’d never thought about committing suicide. I was a confident, strong, successful person," he says. "But I felt like I couldn’t do anything, like someone was taking my life away from me."
In the midst of it all, he found our publications and website a lifeline, helping him feel more reassured and less isolated.
"As I read through all the information, the thoughts of me taking my own life went away because I found I was not alone," he says. "Those negative thoughts stayed with me for a long time. But I still have my life and my wife. I’m active and I’m fine."
Talking therapy and medication
For Will Trubridge, the demands of balancing a physical job with hormone therapy left him tired and susceptible to mood swings.
"I just couldn’t do as much as I was used to," he says. "People at work kept offering to help me lifting stuff or doing things for me, and I found myself shouting at them to leave me alone and let me do it myself. I just wanted to be normal. Things came to a head when I had a meeting with my Director and I just started crying."
He was subsequently diagnosed with depression by his GP and given anti-depressants as well as therapy, which helped him and his wife open up about their feelings and their relationship. He also found complementary therapies, like reflexology, beneficial.
"It won’t do anything for my cancer, but it certainly helps with relaxation and emotional wellbeing," he says. "And when you’re emotionally strong, it’s easier to cope with hardships, isn’t it?"
Tell someone and don't feel guilty
Kurt Jewson also found medication and talking to a Macmillan counsellor helped – as well as learning not to feel guilty about his mental health.
"People said that I was 'fighting' cancer – I wasn’t," he says. "The cancer treatment seemed pretty passive. The active fight was the depression, which I knew nothing about and had no way of coping with.
"If you feel like I did then it’s OK. Don’t panic and don’t fight it. If you fight it, you end up depressed and guilty. Be brave and tell someone. A problem shared is a problem with a bit knocked off."
Talk to others and get support
It can be good to hear others' experiences of dealing with prostate cancer, and many men – like Kurt – say they find it cathartic to share their own. Our Online community is a great place to talk with others in the same situation as you, or you can talk to one of our trained volunteers who have experience of the disease through our One-to-one peer support service.
Of course, our Specialist Nurses are always available over the phone or online if you are feeling down or worried and are finding it hard to deal with things. And you can ring the Samaritans if you need help at any other time.
Our Specialist Nurses came up with these 10 tips for keeping the blues away, from getting outside to random acts of kindness.