Challenging emotions with prostate cancer
Being diagnosed with prostate cancer may be one of the most stressful events you ever experience. A prostate cancer diagnosis can come as a shock because you may not have had any symptoms or indications that something was wrong.
After a diagnosis you may feel:
- A wide range of emotions from shock, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear to frustration
- Worried because you’ve seen the experiences of a family member or friend who had cancer
- Angry or that it’s unfair this has happened to you
- Sad for your partner, family and other loved ones around you
- Physical effects of stress like nausea, stomach upsets, feeling irritable or on edge and trouble sleeping
You may feel better over time, or you may feel very overwhelmed, feel like you’re losing control, or that the negative emotions don’t go away.
You may be faced with difficult choices between several different treatment options. This can be a very challenging stage of your cancer experience, and the time at which you may need the most support. Prostate cancer and treatment can impact your mental health and your life in general. You may also feel stressed about treatment costs, managing work and how the treatment impacts your family.
You don’t need to do this alone, there is help available.
All of these different feelings are normal – there is no right or wrong way to react or feel.
You will have your own individual way of managing. Remember, it is normal to feel more emotional when you are diagnosed with or being treated for cancer. The more down you feel, the harder it can be to cope with treatment.
That’s why it’s important to tell your healthcare team, call a PCFA nurse or connect with the Prostate Cancer Counselling Service if you feel you’re struggling emotionally. If you urgently need mental health support call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636. If you need urgent medical help or you are at risk, call 000.
The better you feel, the better the outcomes will be for you and those close to you. So, it’s always important to seek help when you need it. Reach out to a PCFA nurse on 1800 22 00 99 for advice, support and resources.
How can you support your psychological wellbeing?
Everyone deals with difficult situations or decisions differently. It is important to look after yourself, even if you don’t feel like it – the better you care for yourself and keep your body strong, the better you will get through the emotional and physical challenges you may face during your prostate cancer experience. Understanding what has worked best for you in the past can help you cope with the challenges a cancer diagnosis may bring.
You may want to:
- Talk through your problems with people you trust, such as your partner or close friends to help you cope and make sense of your situation
- Seek support, call a helpline (PCFA nurse 1800 22 00 99), join a support group, or find a professional counsellor to discuss your concerns and worries – for more information go to Where can you seek support?
- Keep busy and distract yourself from any unpleasant thoughts or situations
- Take time out by doing something enjoyable for yourself, like relaxing, going for a walk outside, taking a bath or having a massage
- Keep up with your social activities, catch up with friends and carry on with the hobbies you previously enjoyed, to help you forget your worries for a while
- Rest and relax or use exercises or techniques and complementary therapies, such as meditation, yoga and counselling to help you manage stress and help you feel strong and in control, especially during treatment and just afterwards
- Keep organised, use a diary and write down notes from your appointments so you can think more clearly and feel less overwhelmed by your emotions (visit Your Wellbeing Plan and Financial & Practical Support)
- Sort out your practical affairs if you’re worried about your finances, relationships or work – make a plan and seek advice early (visit Financial & Practical Support)
It is also important to eat well, remain active and get enough sleep. A healthy, balanced diet has been shown to result in better outcomes from prostate cancer, while regular exercise can improve your outcomes, help you manage side effects of treatment, help to prevent tiredness and fatigue, lift your mood, and help you to sleep. Getting enough sleep helps you cope with prostate cancer, both emotionally and physically.
Follow the links below to find out more:
You can also follow the below link to learn what effects treatments may have on your mental health:
What strategies may not be helpful?
- Try not to block your emotions or reactions, as this can lead to further anxiety or frustration
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and other potentially addictive and harmful behaviours – learn more by following the link to: What are the lifestyle habits you should avoid?
The Dos and don’ts to support your mental wellbeing
- Eat healthily and get plenty of exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Learn relaxation techniques or meditation
- Spend time with family and friends
- Join a prostate cancer support group
- Avoid your problems
- Blame yourself
- Use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to make yourself feel better
What if your strategies aren’t working?
Sometimes negative feelings can start interfering with your normal everyday life. If this happens for more than 2 weeks, it could lead indicate anxiety or depression. These are mental health conditions that can make it more difficult to deal with the physical side effects of treatment.
Anxiety is the thoughts, feelings and physical reactions you have when you’re faced with stress or danger. Some signs of anxiety include:
- Panic attacks
- Racing heart
- Tight chest
- Breathing quickly
- Trembling or shaking
- Worrying excessively
- Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious
- Difficulties with concentration or sleep
Depression is feeling sad, moody or low for a long period of time. The rate of depression is higher in men with prostate cancer than in the rest of the community.
Some signs of depression include:
- Always feeling in a low mood – sad, miserable, frustrated or angry
- Having no interest in usual activities that you previously enjoyed
- Feeling overwhelmed
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Difficulties with sleeping and eating
Anxiety and depression don’t usually go away by themselves. But there are very effective treatments available. It’s worth getting treatment as the symptoms may get worse over time.
Where can you get professional support?
Your healthcare team’s job is to care for you emotionally as well as physically. During stages of your cancer journey, you may be asked how you and your partner, if you have one, are coping emotionally. Sometimes it can be difficult to put into words how you are feeling.
If you have any changes in your mental health or feelings that become overwhelming to the point that they are affecting your daily life, talk to your doctor or a member of your healthcare team. They can provide you with more information and support or refer you to a counselling professional, like a counsellor or psychologist, where you can talk freely and confidentially and develop strategies to cope with your feelings.
Prostate cancer distress screening
There are ways your healthcare team can measure your level of distress, such as the Prostate Cancer Distress Screen. This involves a member of your healthcare team, such as a PCFA nurse, talking to you about how you are coping, any problems you are experiencing, and asking questions about your level of distress. The information you give may help you and your healthcare team identify areas where you may need help and support.
A distress screening form can be downloaded at https://www.pcfa.org.au/awareness/for-healthcare-professionals/screening-for-distress/. It might be helpful for you to fill this form out and take it with you to discuss with your doctor, nurse, psychologist or counsellor. The screen covers the following areas:
Talk to your doctor or call a PCFA nurse on 1800 22 00 99 if you need advice on how to cope with your feelings or get help for anxiety or depression, or to find out more about the Prostate Cancer Counselling Service.
Support with medications
You doctor may also review your current treatment and medications. If your anxiety or depression are moderate or severe, your doctor may prescribe you antidepressant medication. This can be very effective but may take 4 to 6 weeks to work and there are sometimes side effects. You can discuss these with your doctor.
Other support and resources
Support from your partner, family members, a friend or a prostate cancer support group can help you cope with the challenges of prostate cancer. Even if you don’t want to talk about your feelings with family and friends, they can help you in practical ways. They can give you company, have fun with you, or help you exercise.
You may also want to explore some support groups near you. It is important to remember that you are not alone and that there are established prostate cancer support groups in every state and territory across Australia. Support and advice can be received from men and their partners who’ve been in the same position as you and understand what you’re going through. This can be a powerful way to help you manage the challenges of prostate cancer.
You can also find a list of mental health resources that may help on the Australian Government’s Head to Health website at www.headtohealth.gov.au
You can find many ways to get support by visiting the PCFA Nursing & Support section of this toolkit.
- Being diagnosed and undergoing treatment for prostate cancer may be the most stressful event in your life
- You may have a range of emotions like feeling concerned and worried after diagnosis and overwhelmed when faced with treatment options
- All feelings are normal and support is available from your healthcare team, PCFA nurse, counsellors, family and friends
- You can support your own phsychological wellbeing in various ways, but it is also important to seek professional help if you feel you may have anxiety or depression
- Avoid coping strageties that are not helpful in the long term, such as blocking out emotions or using unhealthy substances or behaviours to cope
- A PCFA nurse can guide you through a Prostate Cancer Distress Screen, which can help your healthcare team understand the level of distress you are under
- Your doctor may also review your medications and you may want to reach out to family, freinds or support groups
- There are many resources available in Australia for mental health support