November, or Movember as it has become known in certain circles, is an opportunity to raise awareness for one of the most common cancers in men, prostate cancer. All over the country, men (and women) are growing (and sporting) a moustache for charity. As a somewhat hirsute therapist I feel rather at home when others are sprouting facial hair around me!
Seriously, this is a very common cancer and no laughing matter. It affects some 40,000 men and approximately 10,000 will die from it. That represents one man per hour.* As a psychotherapist I know how it impacts on men at both a psychological, as well as a physical level.
Hearing that you have a diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. Having been told you are suffering cancer is very traumatic, and the shock waves can reverberate throughout the entire family. Friends too may also be deeply shocked.
Initially numbness and confusion can make it difficult to take in what is happening. This is the time to attend medical appointments with a friend or ask if you can record consultations on your phone. Remembering, even listening and paying attention to things can be difficult when you feel “shell shocked.” Men have told me that they literally shut down when told the news, going into a deep state of denial. This is often hard for loved ones who are scared and want to mobilise them into action to help themselves.
There is nothing fair about cancer. “Why me?” is the common response. The only repost is to say, “Why not me?” A diagnosis of cancer can change your whole world view, literally flip it upside down. How you respond to it will depend on your world view, upbringing and outlook. Are you an optimist, pessimist, pragmatist or realist? Your mindset will shape how you cope and may even possibly influence the outcome of your treatment.
A diagnosis of cancer is often the rallying call to take stock of life. In other words, to look at where you have come from, where you are now, and where you are going. As you look face to face at your own mortality it may lead you to consider or even question your spiritual and religious beliefs. You may question values, assumptions, as well as deeply held beliefs.
Many, many different emotions may surface on hearing that dreaded word: shock, dismay, disbelief, denial, anger, despair, depression, grief to name but a few. Any or all of these feelings may come forth, and in no particular order.
The most common initial reaction is usually deep shock (or numbness). You may well feel sick and unsteady as you take in the news. You may feel very afraid, scared of the implications. You may be fearful of the treatment or scared of dying. You may think of others you know who have succumbed to cancer (and forget those who have survived!) you are very likely to catastrophise and imagine the worst. You may picture yourself in pain and suffering. This is all very normal.
You may question, ask yourself how you got this. You may feel guilty and wonder if this is hereditary and pass this on to family members. You may blame yourself for not noticing it earlier. You may think of your family and feel guilty for what you imagine you will put them through.
It is likely that you will feel angry. You may even find yourself taking it out on those you love. You may be spurred on to fight and actively channel your energy into seeking a “cure.” While I fully support this, I would urge caution lest you spend vast sums of money on so called “miracle cures” that leave your hopes dashed and your wallet empty. A better use of your anger and energy might be to engage in raising awareness of prostate cancer, fund raise and find out as much as you can about the best treatment choices.
You may find that initial anger turns to sadness and demoralisation. Get active, let your body work with you to promote the release of endorphins; these natural antidepressant hormones will level out your mood.
It is the most normal thing to fear death, dying and pain. Embrace rather than fight. Take up mindfulness meditation and learn to be at peace with yourself. Look at what you can do with each day and remember that the vast majority of people with prostate cancer go on to live and thrive if they accept and allow experts to treat them. Men and denial sadly go hand in hand. Go to your doctors and find out what is going on. Denial is for wimps!
It is important to remember that your family and friends will also want to share this. As I said above, don’t deny them the opportunity to face the reality of your condition – this is selfish. This notion of “protecting them” is not helpful as it prevents them experiencing their feelings. They too may need to work through feelings and possibly access professional support. Children may need to have the support of teachers and adults may seek counselling. Counselling may well be very helpful for you. Talking things over with another who is outside of your family can really help to get things in perspective.
Work closely with your cancer care specialists -they are a team around you, who have the resources to assist you to effectively manage pain, nausea and fatigue. Managing the physical symptoms helps greatly in managing the emotional aspects that are a natural accompaniment to this condition.
If you wish to know more about any aspect of prostate cancer health contact Prostate Cancer UK on 0800 074 8383, or visit their website at www.prostate cancer.org. If you are reading this and you are not in the UK you may wish to contact the American Cancer Association on 800 227 2345 or visit their website on www.cancer.org.
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
“Cancer affects your emotional health” – http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/anxietyfearanddepression/anxiety-fear-and-depression-cancer-and-your-emotional-health [Accessed 8/11/13].
* “TIME to MAN UP” by Steve Morrissey published in Benhealth , the magazine for members of Benenden Healthcare Society, Winter 2013, issue 25. www.benenden.co.uk