If you’re close to someone with prostate cancer you’re likely to want to give them support and be there for them. Research suggests that family and friends who offer emotional and practical support may help men deal better with the daily challenges of having prostate cancer.
Doing something to help might also ease your own feelings of distress and help you feel more in control. But be aware of your limits and try to remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own. Think about whether your friends or family could help out with some things. Social services and charities can also be good places to get support.
Dealing with a diagnosis of cancer, having treatment and managing side effects can be challenging. We know from research that men with prostate cancer and their partners have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Read more about the feelings men might go through when they have prostate cancer.
If you notice that your loved one is feeling very down, worried or is finding it hard to cope, encourage him to speak to his doctor or nurse. There are treatments and support available. They can also speak to our Specialist Nurses or ring the Samaritans if they need to speak to someone urgently.
Getting information about prostate cancer
Many partners, family and friends find it helps to learn more about prostate cancer. Some people like to read lots about prostate cancer, while others prefer not to know as much.
Learning about prostate cancer can help you and your loved one feel more informed and confident about making decisions. It may also help you both feel more prepared for what will happen during and after treatment.
If you choose to get information, it’s important to get it from places and people that you trust. Health professionals may give you information, or you can find information online or in print, like booklets and fact sheets. You can download or order any of our publications for free.
Getting information about prostate cancer can help you and your loved one in many ways.
Making a decision
Often men with prostate cancer will have a choice about what treatment to have. This is because there isn’t always an overall best treatment, and each treatment has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some men may also have a choice about whether or not to have treatment straight away, which can be a difficult
decision to make. Finding out more about treatments and side effects can help.
Some men find having support from their partner, family or friends helps when making this decision. For example, you could talk through the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment together and think about what’s right for him.
Knowing what to expect
Knowing more about prostate cancer and treatment can help you prepare for what will happen and the possible side effects of treatment. Treatments for prostate cancer can all cause side effects, such as:
• difficulty getting or keeping erections (erectile dysfunction)
• urinary problems (incontinence)
• bowel problems
• extreme tiredness (fatigue).
A common treatment called hormone therapy can also cause other side effects such as hot flushes, loss of sex drive, breast swelling, weight gain, muscle loss, forgetfulness and mood changes, such as feeling more irritable or emotional. Read more about how hormone therapy affects men.
Side effects can affect a man’s everyday life and the lives of those close to him. Dealing with these feelings, as well as with the cancer itself, can make men feel worried and sometimes depressed. But there are ways to manage side effects. And getting information about prostate cancer can often help you both feel more reassured about side effects and what to expect in the future.
Talking to health professionals
Some people find it helps to have someone with them at their appointments. It’s hard to take everything in, ask questions and make notes all at the same time. Having someone else there to remember and ask questions can be useful.
Health professionals involved in your loved one’s care may not be able to discuss his diagnosis, treatment or care with you, unless he gives them permission. If he is happy for you to know about these things, he needs to let his doctor or nurse know. He can request this for anyone – whether that’s a partner, family member or friend.
Some people don’t feel confident talking to health professionals. But it’s always worth asking if you’re not sure about something, or if you have a question or concern. Sometimes health professionals will ask if you have any questions. But if they don’t, it could be because they assume you understand what has been said, or that you would ask if you had any questions.
As a partner or relative, you also have the right to information and support for yourself. If you don’t feel able to talk to the doctors or nurses treating your loved one, make an appointment with your GP. Or you can call our Specialist Nurses, who are here for you too.
Talking about it
Many men with prostate cancer value being able to talk to those close to them about how they are feeling. It can help get things out in the open. There is no right or wrong thing to say – sometimes you might just need to listen. Macmillan Cancer Support has information about how to talk to someone with cancer.
You and your loved one might not always want to or feel able to talk. Some people need some support to open up and express how they are feeling. Talking to someone else, such as a friend, health professional or counsellor might be helpful, either together or separately.
And remember, you will be dealing with your own feelings too and may also need time to talk about them.
What if he doesn't want to talk?
Some men prefer to cope on their own and don’t want to talk about things, or want any outside help.
You might find this frustrating or upsetting. But try to remember that they might not see things the same way as you. Even if you think that they need some practical help or should be talking about their emotions, they might feel that they’re coping fine.
Try to help them think about what they want, rather than telling them what they should do. You can do this by asking questions or saying what you think, and then asking what they think.
It may take some men longer to accept that they have prostate cancer than others. Their initial response could be disbelief, denial or shock. They might find it hard to take in information about their cancer or accept help. It may help to give them information in small chunks, at times when they seem ready to take it in.
You could let them know that you are there for them if they need anything. Be specific about the kind of support you can offer – practical as well as emotional. You might need to give them space to come to terms with things in their own time or deal with things in their own way.
Just being there
For some men just having family and friends around is enough. You don’t always have to talk about prostate cancer. Just chatting about normal things and doing some everyday activities together might help. Encourage your loved one to see family and friends and to keep up with social activities and hobbies if they feel up to it.
Supporting lifestyle changes
When someone you’re close to is unwell, it’s natural to try to protect them and make their life as easy as possible. But a lot of men will want to keep doing things for themselves and to stay active.
Many men with prostate cancer say they want to keep things as normal as possible. They may want to manage any side effects, or changes they’re experiencing, themselves. This is called self-management. It means being actively involved in looking after your own health and wellbeing. For example, changing your diet, getting more active or learning other ways to look after yourself. It also involves being aware of any changes to your health and letting your doctor or nurse know about them.
But not all men will want, or be able, to make changes to their lifestyle. For some it may take a long time to make any changes, especially if they’ve been doing something for a long time. But remember that making small changes gradually can still make a big difference to their health and the way they feel. Supporting your loved one to make positive lifestyle changes can help keep them motivated.
Self Management UK runs courses for people who want to take control of their health, including courses for carers.
Going to appointments
You might be able to go along to appointments with your loved one. Men often say they like having someone with them for company and to help remember information. Attending appointments with your loved one may also help you feel more involved in his care and treatment.
Some men find it helps if someone talks to the health professional for them. But only do this if he asks you to. Some people like to take notes, or you could ask to record the conversation using a phone or another recording device. This is often a good way to keep track of important details and means your loved one can go back over what was said in their own time. They have the right to record their appointment if they want to, because it's their personal data. But let the doctor or nurse know if and why you're recording them, as not everyone is comfortable being recorded.
If you’re going to be waiting a long time for appointments or treatments, take some things to do. For example, travel games or cards, magazines, books and crosswords. Or you could listen to music or watch films if you have a smart phone, laptop or tablet.
If you’re concerned about anything to do with the treatment your loved one is getting, talk to their doctor or nurse.
If you’re raising any concerns without your loved one’s knowledge, the doctors and nurses can listen to your concerns, but they might need to tell him about the conversation if it affects his care and treatment. Other services where you can raise concerns include:
- your local Healthwatch or Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in England
- your local NHS board in Scotland
- your local Community Health Council in Wales
- the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland.
Getting help with travel costs
You might be able to get help with the cost of travel to and from hospital, and hospital parking. This varies depending on where you live. Some people are eligible for free hospital transport. To find out more, talk to the hospital that is caring for your loved one, or his GP, or contact Macmillan Cancer Support. Some hospitals have a support and information service that may also have information about local travel costs and parking.
I’ve tried to learn as much as I possibly can so that I know what he’s going through and can try to help.