Challenges of Living with Prostate Cancer
Upon receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis, or after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, your life may be completely different than ever before. Changes you may experience might include managing treatment-related side-effects, coping with intense emotions, making healthy lifestyle changes, worrying about or monitoring for cancer recurrence or the development of a second cancer, and managing the employment or financial impact of cancer. Additionally, one or more of your loved ones may need to take on a caregiver role for you during this time. This new role, or coping with your diagnosis in general, may lead them to experience life changes as well.
Your healthcare team may instruct you to make lifestyle changes to better manage treatment side-effects, improve your overall wellbeing, or to help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or development of a second cancer. Some of these lifestyle changes may include improving your diet, exercising more, or quitting smoking. Many of these changes will be outlined for you in your survivorship care plan, a guide to help you navigate life after prostate cancer treatment, including symptoms to watch for and a schedule of follow-up appointments and tests for the future.
Coping with symptoms and side-effects of treatment
Although prostate cancer treatment can be effective in curing the cancer for many individuals, there are treatment-related side-effects that can arise and persist for years to come. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Erectile dysfunction and other sexual side effects
- Urinary incontinence and other urinary problems
- Lymphedema (swelling)
- Bowel problems
- Hot flashes
- Depression and anxiety
- Feelings of embarrassment and social isolation
This is not an exhaustive list of all possible treatment-related side-effects. Your healthcare team may help you find ways to manage any frustrating or quality of life-impacting side-effects. Management of these side-effects may include medications, medical procedures or devices, lifestyle changes, or counseling.
Concerns about recurrence or second cancer
Even after successful treatment, there is a chance your cancer can recur or come back. Additionally, just because you had cancer once, does not mean you will not have it again. You are still able to develop a second cancer in another location unrelated to your prostate cancer. Fears or worry about cancer recurrence or a second cancer may become overwhelming and impact your quality of life. Your healthcare team will be able to give you a better understanding of your risk for recurrence or a second cancer, as well as provide you with a list of signs or symptoms to watch for. If your fear becomes uncontrollable or starts to impact your daily life, your healthcare provider may recommend that you seek additional emotional support in the form of counseling or an oncology social worker, therapy, or support groups.
Employment and financial impact of cancer
Cancer treatment can be expensive, even with the best insurance coverage. Out-of-pocket expenses can run high, and treatment or coping with your diagnosis may force you to miss work. All of this may take a toll on your finances or employment status. Additionally, post-treatment fatigue or treatment-related side-effects may further prevent you from being able to perform your job efficiently. Keeping open lines of communication with your boss or supervisor, as well as seeking legal or governmental support for any financial struggles you’re having, may help you keep your head above water financially during this time.
Changes for friends and family
Having a loved one receive a cancer diagnosis or undergo cancer treatment can be stressful for friends and family, especially when they are helping think through treatment decisions. Additionally, some individuals may need to take on a caregiver role to provide further support. Feelings of exhaustion, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and more can plague friends, family, or caregivers, and can lead to a decline in their quality of life as well. As much as you may need to lean on your friends and family during this time, they may also need to lean back on you too. Maintaining healthy communication with those around you, and encouraging them to seek support when needed can help keep you and your inner circle functioning to the best of everyone’s ability.
End-of-life care planning
Being initially diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer is a rare occurrence, since many cases of prostate cancer are found early on, or are treatable. Despite this, some individuals will end up fighting a battle with late-stage prostate cancer. In these cases, appropriate end-of-life care planning may be necessary. Although this can be difficult, the more an individual is able to plan while they are of sound mind and body, the less stress they (and their friends and family) will experience later on. Examples of end-of-life planning may include deciding to use hospice care, making a living will (also called an advanced directive), appointing a healthcare proxy to make all treatment-related decisions (in the event that the individual battling cancer is unable to), funeral or memorial service plans, and more.