Being diagnosed with prostate cancer at any time can be stressful and frightening. If you’re dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis or treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, this can cause extra stress and anxiety. Common feelings during this time include:
- feeling overwhelmed
You are not alone. Many men and those close to them have found it difficult looking after their physical health and mental wellbeing during the pandemic. But there are things you can do to improve your wellbeing and feel more in control.
The following information is for anyone affected by prostate cancer – whether you have just been diagnosed, are having treatment, or are living with prostate cancer or the side effects of treatment. Your loved ones might also find this information helpful, in particular the tips and suggestions for partners, family or friends.
Thoughts and feelings
Being diagnosed and living with prostate cancer during the current pandemic can affect your mood, thoughts and emotions. You may experience a range of emotions – some may feel stronger than usual and harder to manage. It’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently, and your own feelings may change daily, hourly or even minute to minute.
Feeling like you have to be strong and protect your loved ones is normal. But your family members and friends may also have some of the same feelings, and you may find sharing your thoughts and feelings helpful. Working through your emotions can help lower stress and improve your mental and physical health.
I continue to look after my mind, body, soul and emotions, and ask others for help when I’m feeling low.
If feelings of sadness, irritability and hopelessness grow stronger over time, you could be depressed. It’s important to tell your doctor or nurse how you’re feeling. They can make sure you get the support or treatment you need.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you should continue with your treatment as planned and keep an eye on your thoughts and feelings. If you feel you are developing new or worse symptoms, speak to your GP or mental health support worker, if you have one.
If you are struggling to cope with your feelings and don’t know who to talk to, you can call the Samaritans' 24-hour helpline, or visit the Samaritans website for information and support.
I journal my feelings and reflections and have recently joined a men's counselling group to share and support each other mentally.
Tips to help manage stress and anxiety
The following suggestions won’t all work for everyone, but you may find it helpful to try them. You may find that some of the ideas work well for you, even though you didn’t expect them to make a difference.
When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, family and friends can be a great support. You may have been advised to stay at home and reduce face-to-face contact, which can be isolating and lonely. It’s important to try to stay connected to people in other ways, for example:
- Phone calls
- Video calls – many video calling apps will allow you to speak to lots of people at the same time
- Text messages.
Talking about how you feel with those close to you may help you cope with things. Or you could talk to someone who understands what you’re going through on our online community, through our one-to-one support service, or in a support group. Many support groups are holding meetings online at the moment.
Telephone friendship services
Most people will have felt lonely at some point during this pandemic. As you get older your social network may become smaller. This means that people in later life are especially vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. You may be simply missing the enjoyment of a regular conversation, and just want a friendly chat with someone.
Telephone friendship services allow you to enjoy a chat with someone from the comfort of your home. Age UK runs a telephone friendship service – for more information, visit the Age UK website.
I was very anxious, but I spoke to the nurse and she made me feel very reassured. I'm in a much happier state now.
Set limits for news and social media
It’s important to stay informed during this time. But the constant stream of media updates and news reports about coronavirus could cause distress and worry. It’s important to find a balance and use reliable sources to get your news and stay informed.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news, you may want to limit the number of times you check the news to once or twice a day.
On social media, people may share their own beliefs and worries. You may find yourself taking on other people’s worries, increasing your own levels of stress and anxiety. Take a break. Limiting the time you spend on social media may help you feel more in control.
If you’re finding the coverage of coronavirus too much, talk about your concerns with a loved one. You may be unsure about what information applies to you, particularly if you’re not sure whether you’re at high risk from coronavirus. Talk to your GP or hospital doctor or call our Specialist Nurses.
Get enough sleep
Sleep plays a big role in mental health, mood and wellbeing. During this pandemic you may have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep. Stress and anxiety can cause sleep problems, but there are things you can do to help. These include:
- Taking some time before bed to read or meditate
- Trying breathing exercises
- Keeping a good sleep routine – going to bed and getting up at around the same time each day
- Listening to relaxing music or an audiobook
- Avoiding drinking too much alcohol
- Not using electronic devices, such as your smartphone or computer, before bed
- Avoiding caffeine or large meals late in the day.
You and those close to you may notice changes in your mood. Poor sleep can cause you to feel irritable, angry and frustrated. Problems sleeping may also be a symptom of depression. These feelings may become overwhelming and you may start to feel hopeless. Talking about these feelings and getting the right support can help you cope with anxiety and depression.
Speak to your GP if you’re finding it difficult to sleep. You can also speak to our Specialist Nurses.
I’d had a worrying night feeling sorry for myself, but after a chat I felt so reassured.
Stay physically active
Regular physical activity is a great way to look after your physical and mental health. Physical activity can help you stay a healthy weight, which may be important for men with prostate cancer. And there are also lots of benefits for your mental health. For example, keeping active can:
- Improve your sleep
- Boost your mood
- Relieve stress
- Help you cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
You don’t need to do hours of exercise a day or run miles to feel the benefits of physical activity. Walking is a gentle way to get active, particularly if you’re experiencing fatigue as a symptom of prostate cancer or a side effect of its treatment. You may wish to start with short walks and build them up as and when you feel well enough.
If you find walking difficult there are gentle sitting exercises you can do at home to help improve your physical and mental health. You can find out more about sitting exercises on the NHS website.
For more tips on how to get active, read our information on physical activity for men with prostate cancer.
Keep a routine – make a plan
Changes or disruptions to your daily routine may make you feel less in control. This can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. It may also affect your sense of identity, particularly if you’ve stopped going to work because of your prostate cancer or coronavirus.
It’s important to keep up a routine where possible and set up new ones if needed. Having a routine can help you feel more in control and take away some of the uncertainty in your day-to-day life, particularly if you’re staying at home. Take your time to find a routine that works for you – there’s no right way to spend your time.
If you have been asked to shield or are staying at home because you are worried about coronavirus, try to keep up your usual personal care. Even though this may not seem essential when you’re not seeing other people, it can have a positive effect on your mental wellbeing.
Your appointments with health professionals may also have been affected by the pandemic and social distancing guidelines. If you’re worried because your appointments have changed, you may forget what you’d planned to talk about. You may find it helpful to plan what you want to ask your doctor or nurse, and write it down as a reminder. It can also help to write notes during your appointments, in case you forget what they say.
Take care of you – find ways to relax
Dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis can be more challenging at the moment, because of the added stress and worry caused by coronavirus. When you become stressed the muscles in your body can also become tight. So it’s important to find ways to manage this stress, to help you feel less anxious and to help relax your mind and your body.
There are many relaxation techniques you can use to calm your mind, help you focus and reduce the tension in your body. Here are some techniques you could try.
Meditation. There are many different types of meditation, so you may want to try out a couple of techniques to find one that works for you. Meditation involves working with your mind, learning to observe your thoughts and feelings and to understand them better. To find out more about meditation, including a popular type of meditation called guided imagery, visit the Headspace website. You can also download free guided meditations from the Insight Timer App. For information about mindfulness, which is another popular type of meditation, visit the Mind charity website.
Breathing techniques. These are exercises that can help to slow down and control your breathing, which can help to relieve stress and manage anxiety. To find out more about breathing exercises, visit the Headspace website. You can also visit the NHS website to try a breathing exercise for stress. If you have a medical condition that can cause breathing problems, speak to your GP before trying any relaxation techniques.
For more ways to manage your physical and mental wellbeing, visit Every Mind Matters. Created by Public Health England in partnership with the NHS, Every Mind Matters offers free, personalised tips and resources designed to help people take steps to improve their mental health and support others.
Supporting someone with prostate cancer during the pandemic
It’s natural to want to do everything you can to support a loved one with prostate cancer. If your loved one’s GP or hospital appointments have been affected by coronavirus, you may worry about missing important information about treatment or care.
It may help to talk to your loved one about any questions you have. You may also want to write down some questions for them to ask at their next appointment.
It’s common for partners or other loved ones to go along to appointments. But this has been harder during the pandemic. Hospitals and GP surgeries generally only let the patient themselves enter the building at the moment, because of the virus.
You could ask your loved one to make notes during the appointment, so that he can talk through the notes with you afterwards. Or he could ask to record the appointment using his phone or another recording device. Your loved one has the right to record his appointment, because it’s his personal data. But make sure he lets the doctor or nurse know if and why he is recording them, as not everyone is comfortable being recorded.
If your loved one is having telephone or video appointments at home, you may worry that they’re not telling you everything afterwards. If he is happy for you to be there for the appointment, you could listen to the call via speakerphone, or sit with him during the video call.
Talking to your loved one’s doctor or nurse
If you want to talk to your loved one’s doctor or nurse without his knowledge, they can listen to your concerns. They may not be able to talk about his specific condition, but they’ll be able to give you general information. They might need to tell him about the conversation if it affects their care and treatment of him.
Read more about talking to someone else’s doctor or nurse on the NHS website.
Bad days are normal
Your loved one will probably have good days and bad days. You may find that some days their mood is low, and they may not want to communicate. It’s important to recognise that ‘bad days’ are normal. This can be distressing to see, and you may feel guilty that you can’t help or provide the support you want to. But talking to your loved one about how you’re feeling can help. If you don’t feel like you can do this, try talking with a friend or family member.
If you’re concerned that your loved one is constantly feeling low, it can help to talk to someone who’s trained to listen, like a counsellor, GP or nurse. You can also speak to our Specialist Nurses about how you’re feeling.
It’s important to be kind to yourself – this is a difficult time for you too. The tips and suggestions on this page may be helpful for both of you. They are designed to help you manage your feelings – both for your own mental and emotional wellbeing, and so that you can be there to support your loved one.
For more information on supporting a loved one with prostate cancer, and on looking after yourself, read our information for partners and family members.
My loved one has died, how can I get support?
When someone close to you dies, it can be very upsetting and difficult to come to terms with. But now is a particularly difficult time to lose a loved one.
Feelings of grief and sadness may be even more difficult to deal with if you’re isolating because of coronavirus. If someone you love has recently died, you’ll probably be experiencing normal feelings of grief, as well as extra uncertainty, loneliness and even anger about not being able to see other loved ones at this time.
When someone dies, it’s natural to want your family and friends around you for comfort and support. For many people, being with others helps them manage their feelings and come to terms with their loss.
Funerals are still able to happen, but only a certain number of people can go. The exact number will depend on where in the UK you live, and on the size of the building. This is to make sure people can follow social distancing guidelines during the funeral, which includes keeping at least 2 metres apart from anyone who doesn’t live with you. It’s common to hug or hold hands at funerals – so not being able to do this could be very difficult and upsetting.
If you’re not able to go to a funeral, you may be able to watch it online from your home, if the family decides to share it in this way. Some families may also have a memorial service or gathering at a later date, when everyone can be together and remember the person who has died.
If you can’t be with your family or friends for comfort and support, make sure you find other ways to stay in touch – for example regular phone calls, video calls or social media.
You could try contacting your local community palliative care team, who can provide support if you’ve lost a loved one. If your loved one died in hospital, you may be able to get support from the hospital’s palliative care team.
You may also want to contact other organisations who specialise in helping people deal with loss and grief. Cruse Bereavement Care have information and a free helpline for anyone who is dealing with bereavement or grief. Sue Ryder has an online community where you can chat to others who are experiencing grief. Samaritans and Mind also have information and support if you’re finding things difficult to deal with.