Receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis or undergoing treatment for prostate cancer can be overwhelming and life-changing. These changes affect not only the individual with the condition but also their friends and family. The need for support, physically and emotionally, during this time is at a high, and a man with prostate cancer may rely heavily on those he cares about, and who care about him. Sometimes, a member (or members) of a man’s support network may need to transition into a caregiver role. This new role is often full-time, and can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding.
Making the decision to help a loved one and become their caregiver may seem to be simple, however, there are many things to consider when taking on this role. Caregivers can experience fatigue and burnout, which can affect their own wellbeing. They can also experience communication frustrations that can take a toll on their relationship with the loved one they’re caring for1. There are several common issues to consider when becoming, or strengthening, your role as a caregiver for a man with prostate cancer.
Maintaining healthy communication
Healthy and open communication are critical between a caregiver and the man they’re caring for. Your loved one may be overwhelmed, scared, or depressed about their diagnosis or treatment options. Additionally, even after treatment, there are many quality of life-impacting side-effects that can affect a man for years to come. Some of these side-effects may be embarrassing, such as urinary incontinence or sexual dysfunction, and depending on the nature of your relationship, the man you are caring for may not feel comfortable fully sharing his struggles with you.
Despite this, it is important to make sure your loved one knows that you are here for them, without judgment. Even if he does not want to disclose everything, you can maintain a warm, open communicative space so he feels comfortable at least letting you know something is going on, and that he wants to find a way to manage things. If he’s comfortable sharing this much with you, you can then encourage him to consult his healthcare team, and let him know that you’re ready and available to help him navigate these frustrations if he ever needs an extra hand. Additionally, maintaining healthy lines of communication may also help your loved one feel comfortable confiding in you if he is experiencing depression or emotional distress.
It is important to note, however, that these lines of communication should run both ways. If you are feeling burned out, not listened to, or like you are experiencing caregiver fatigue, it’s important to constructively communicate these frustrations with your loved one, to help set new, healthy expectations for the both of you.
How to help
As a caregiver, there are many ways to help your loved one. Sometimes, you may need to help them physically get from place to place if they aren’t able to drive, while other times, you may need to help plan a medication schedule. Your responsibilities can vary greatly from day to day. Other ways to help include researching for or with your partner, as well as accompanying them to medical appointments.
Knowledge can be powerful, and your loved one may be too overwhelmed at times to research treatment options, medications, and other aspects of their care. Spending some time on your own to learn more about prostate cancer, the treatment options your loved one is considering, or how to manage post-treatment side-effects may help you better support your loved one, and relieve some of their stress. It is important to note that information overload is possible, and less-than-reputable resources exist. For these reasons, taking breaks during your search and using only verified or professional outlets of information are critical.
You can also join your loved one during their medical appointments if they are comfortable with you there. If you do accompany your loved one to these visits, lending a listening ear or taking notes can be helpful. Your loved one may feel overwhelmed by the news he is receiving or different options presented to him. In these cases, having an additional, attentive listener (or note-taker) may help with remembering small details of the appointment. It may also be helpful to keep a list of your questions or any questions your loved one has had to help guide the conversation during visits.
As a caregiver, it may be necessary for you to encourage your loved one to practice self-care, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and seeking additional emotional support when needed. Also, you may need to help your loved one travel to or participate in hobbies and activities they enjoy. However, just as your loved one should practice self-care, you should remain attentive to your own needs as well. Caregiver fatigue, represented by a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that results from taking care of another individual, can be a serious issue. Caregiver fatigue can take a toll on your overall well-being, as well as your physical health. It can also lead to feelings of depression. Practicing good self-care, including exercising regularly, eating well, openly communicating your feelings and needs to others, and participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy are all ways to combat or avoid caregiver fatigue.1
Coping with your own grief and loss
Grief and loss can come in different forms. Some individuals may feel like their life has changed since becoming a caregiver, and may mourn the loss of their old life. In other cases, feelings of grief and loss may be a direct result of their loved one’s cancer battle. Although many cases of prostate cancer are caught early, and treatment options are often effective, some individuals will still battle advanced or aggressive cases of prostate cancer and may lose their fight.
If an individual you cared for or someone close to you loses their battle with prostate cancer, it is important to take time to address your own feelings of grief. It’s normal to feel upset, depressed, frustrated, and many more complicated emotions after someone you cared for passes. In many cases, seeking additional emotional support, such as counseling, therapy, support groups, or the aid of other family or friends may be necessary and critical to your wellbeing.