Elvis, 58, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019 and had surgery to remove his prostate. Here, he talks about his experience through the COVID-19 pandemic – what he’s found difficult and his top tips for staying healthy, both physically and emotionally.
I’ve had massive emotional ups and downs this year.
Initially I wasn’t concerned about coronavirus. We didn’t know much about the virus, so I was going about my usual life, using public transport and going to work. Then it was reported that those with underlying health problems may be more vulnerable. I started to think, “how is it going to affect me, am I at risk?”
I then received a letter telling me I was vulnerable, this reinforced my fear. Around the same time the announcements changed, it was clear it had become more serious. I rang my boss and explained that I wouldn’t be coming into work as I was in the vulnerable category – within a week, we were all in lockdown. At that point I was definitely feeling scared and confused – how was this going to affect my appointments?
I had had a blood test before we went into lockdown and knew my PSA was undetectable, which was a big relief to have that news before the pandemic got more serious. The thing with the blood tests, is that they hang over you like a cloud. I definitely feel anxiety before every blood test and then waiting for the result. I try and remove that cloud as quickly as possible. One thing I've learnt is that stress has such a big effect on people’s health. I try to be calm, go for a walk, get fresh air and eat well.
What I’ve found most challenging
The biggest challenges for me have been not being able to see family and friends and also the change to my routine, as I'm a very ‘routine’ person.
During the first lockdown I was furloughed before losing my job. I’ve had a lot of things going on during this time. I have been staying with my mum to help her, which has meant being apart from my wife. This can be hard, but we talk about it and she understands. When restrictions allow, we try to put a plan in place. I think knowing that there will be an end to things and that I have something to look forward to gives me reassurance.
With lockdown and me being vulnerable it has completely turned everything upside down for me, it’s a completely new routine. Pre surgery I would get up at 5am and run before work, just because that was part of my day. Now with not working, it’s messed up my routine and I don’t run as much. I’ve lost that bit of motivation I had, but I try my best to get out and walk when I can.
What I’ve learnt
I'm a bit of a perfectionist, but everything has been all up in the air and I’m learning to let things go now. You can’t control everything. I’m also learning not to analyse when things go wrong, just to accept it. Accept where I’m at, physically and emotionally. Just deal with the present.
What is the point in juggling four balls when you know you can only juggle three?
I’ve realised how resilient I can be. All the things that have happened to me in my life, including prostate cancer, have strengthened me. They have helped get me through a time I didn't know I was going to face.
I have had some days during this pandemic where I have just felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I sometimes feel myself getting really worked up. It’s difficult to manage my emotions at times, I’ve not always been particularly good at dealing with my emotions, but I’m working on it. I also listen more to what people around me say and reflect back. Whatever it is that’s overwhelming you, just think and take your time.
Bad days are normal.
My tips for looking after your wellbeing
Be creative with exercise
The main way I relax when feeling stressed is physical activity – going out for a run or even walking and just talking with myself. It’s about managing my head and thoughts. I get out for a walk as much as I can. I try to go every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
We are having our shopping delivered, but if we need fresh bits I walk down to my local shop and will distribute the bags so that it’s evenly weighted on each side. I use them as kind of weight training.
I also quite like tidying up. Doing housework can be a purpose for me to move and can be quite therapeutic.
Make sure you eat healthily
Being more vulnerable [from coronavirus], I have been making sure I eat healthy. I have been eating loads of veg, fruit and trying to get more water in. I think I now have a really good, healthy diet.
Talk to others
Everybody is different, but for me, I try and talk about it. I’m part of a support group, we meet once a month and check in and see where everyone is at. It breaks my heart to hear how people are really struggling at the moment, but great to see people trying to be positive. It’s been such a support to have that group.
I’ve shared the cloud of cancer that is hanging over me, it helps to offload it. I’m not looking for anybody to give me the answers, I’m just sharing with the group. The honesty is refreshing and almost healing, it’s nice to know that you don't have to put on a front with people.
There is sometimes pressure within society to be that really strong, brave man. In support groups you can just be honest.
Talk to yourself
I try not to put things to the back of my mind, because that is when things get buried and can come out in other unhealthy ways. So, I walk around the park and talk my way through something. It’s my way of unburdening myself. To others I would say, find what works for you. It’s about being honest with people and being honest with yourself about how you’re feeling.