In 2021, approximately 250,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States. If you have been recently diagnosed, know that you are not alone and support is available to you in many forms, including prostate cancer support communities. Being diagnosed with prostate cancer can feel overwhelming and cause a variety of emotions to arise, including fear, sadness, anger, and grief. While the passage of time has changed the expectations that a man refrain from expressing emotion and weakness, many men still struggle with sharing emotions, more so when diagnosed with a serious disease. Research has shown that men will be hesitant to disclose personal information about their health and illness publicly (especially in matters of sexuality). However, anxiety and stress is a predominant feature of living with cancer and talking about these emotions helps to relieve stress and reduce severity of psychological symptoms. Prostate cancer support groups are made up of people with the same diagnosis who come together to share stories and knowledge while helping to bring a sense of solidarity and comfort in difficult times.
Psychological Effects of Living With Prostate Cancer
Being diagnosed with prostate cancer has been shown to cause a dramatic increase in psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. The financial burden alone increases stress levels. Combine this with the physical and psychological repercussions of treatment and it is no wonder that up to 30% of prostate cancer patients deal with a new psychiatric diagnosis. Psychosocial issues that men with prostate cancer share include:
- Fear of recurrence of disease
- Fear of death
- Fear of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) assessments
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Prostate cancer specifically affects sexual function, which can be a heavy burden for men who live with the disease. Loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and urinary or bowel incontinence are all significant side effects that can disturb a man’s quality of life during treatment. Men typically do not want to discuss their sexual functionality with others in a group setting. But, talking out these issues may be exactly what is needed to help reduce the burden of stress diagnosis and treatment causes.
Depression and anxiety are two common psychiatric disorders that many cancer patients experience. Men with prostate cancer contend with feelings of lack of manliness and anxiety associated with poor sexual performance which can lead to depression. PSA (prostate-specific antigen) assessments or tests also increase anxiety, especially when waiting on results. Lastly, PTSD is a common stress disorder that many people with cancer develop, even after treatment and during the recovery period.
Masculine Hesitancy in Seeking Support
While men with prostate cancer will benefit from being part of a support group, many choose not to join. Traditionally, men learn patterns of behavior at a young age that define masculinity to be defined by control, strength, stamina, toughness, and power. Men who follow this traditional role of masculinity typically do not want to appear vulnerable.
Prostate cancer is often diagnosed to men aged 60 or over. As men age, social networking decreases due to retirement, relocation, or because of the death of friends and loved ones. This decrease in social contact may mean that a man may not receive as much support as needed and he may not seek out new relationships to build support.
Two of the major symptoms that decrease quality of life in men with prostate cancer are incontinence and loss of sexual function. While both can cause a great amount of distress, embarrassment and shame will keep a man from talking about the side effects and lead to anxiety and depression. Some men will find talking about the treatment and side effects to be too personal to discuss publicly, even if it is only in front of a group of men.
Often, men who are facing a health crisis will suppress emotions and not reach out for support. Common coping mechanisms shared by men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer are avoidance and non-disclosure. Yet, reaching out to people who understand and can relate to your struggles is a positive way to deal with a health crisis and can move you forward into recovery.
Benefits of Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group
If you find that you are one of those men who prefer to “suffer in silence”, consider looking into joining a support group. Psychological distress increases when you are unable to express your worries. Simply telling someone in confidence about your diagnosis or struggles during treatment can relieve a substantial amount of stress. Also, support groups help to teach new ways to cope with problems that arise during cancer treatment.
Joining a cancer support group can help you in many ways, including:
- Increase your knowledge about prostate cancer treatment and side effects
- Help empower you to accept your diagnosis
- Join you with others who are living through a similar life experience
- Reduce depression, distress, fatigue, and/or anxiety
- Decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Help you learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional and physical stressors
- Gives you an opportunity to express repressed emotions in a safe environment
Group Types: Informational, Emotional Support, and Health Interventions
Keep in mind that there are several options for you when choosing your support group. Not all groups are based on talking about emotional or psychological aspects of living with cancer. Some are based on promoting health and how to maintain your needs through treatment and recovery. Others are moderated by oncology professionals that provide accurate and current information about treatment to group members. These informational support groups create a collaborative environment where group members learn new problem-solving skills on how to cope with prostate cancer and treatment.
Many men with prostate cancer feel isolated and seek current information about the disease that is affecting them and its treatment. The health benefits of participating in a support group are almost immediate, especially if the support group offers information about coping interventions during meetings. Learning relaxation exercises, problem-solving, and coping skills are all interventions that can improve your quality life during treatment. Men who participate in these support groups report lower levels of depression, fatigue, and anger after using these coping interventions in their daily lives.
Reduce Feelings of Isolation While Changing Negative Perceptions
Men with prostate cancer typically benefit from learning about their disease and will join a support group if it offers informational support. However, once they join the group, several men express how sharing their worries and emotional struggles with peers relieves psychological burdens. When you reach out for support, especially in an environment where a trained mediator and peers can relate with your life experience, you may find that you can reframe a negative outlook of life into something optimistic and even celebratory. Further, support groups help to improve communication with your family and friends, thus removing feelings of isolation.
Is a Support Group Right For Me?
Prostate cancer support groups typically carry a mission: to bring group members together to share their emotions and become less isolated by sharing their fears and concerns with each other. Prostate cancer support communities are often made up of members who are at different points in their treatment, some may even be fully recovered. Despite being at different stages in treatment, group members share the need to to share their stories about living with cancer among peers who can relate with their experience in living with cancer. Men are able to help each other through supportive words and sharing advice.
Men with prostate cancer have shared that attending these groups have helped to reduce their anxiety and give them reassurance during stressful times. You may find that attending meetings will change your perceptions about treatment and the quality of your life. Thus, decreasing your risk for depression and helping you feel supported during the trying times of your treatment. If you have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and are hesitant to join a support group, talk with your physician to see if there are resources available to you to choose a group that is a proper fit.
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Prostate Cancer Foundation Writing Staff. (2021). Support groups. Retrieved from PCF
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Walker, S. (2005). Prostate cancer support groups: An evaluation. Thesis: Department of Psychology, Swinburne University of Technology. Retrieved from Swinburne University