Coping with Embarrassment and Social Isolation

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2017

It is not uncommon for men with prostate cancer to experience feelings of embarrassment or social isolation during, and even after, their cancer battle. Not every man with prostate cancer will experience these feelings, and even for those who do, the extent of these feelings and need to take action on them will vary from person to person. However, if you’re experiencing feelings of embarrassment or social isolation that impact your quality of life or lead you to experience feelings of depression or anxiety, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Struggling with embarrassment or social isolation?

Men with prostate cancer may experience feelings of embarrassment or social isolation for a variety of reasons. For example, a man battling cancer may feel isolated from his “healthy” friends and family while he is worrying about his prognosis or next treatment decision. Additionally, men who have received treatment for prostate cancer and are experiencing negative quality of life-impacting side effects may experience these emotions. For example, side-effects such as urinary incontinence or bowel problems may make a man wary of going out in public or participating in the activities he enjoys in fear of finding himself in an embarrassing situation. Also, sexual dysfunction as a result of prostate cancer treatment may impact a man’s perception of his masculinity and self-worth. These feelings may make him feel less-than, and lead him to avoid social interactions or intimacy he may have once enjoyed.

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Further, feelings of depression or anxiety related to treatment or the cancer battle, in general, may make a man want to avoid others or feel lonely. Men may even feel socially isolated if they spent the past several months surrounded by doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals and their regular or frequent treatment is now over. One other source of embarrassment or social isolation may come from the diagnosis of reproductive system-related cancer. Some men may feel like those who are uninformed about prostate cancer and its causes may relate their struggle to a sexually transmitted disease or that it is a result of risky sexual activity. It is important to note (and inform others when necessary) that prostate cancer is not related to sexual behaviors or sexually transmitted diseases.1-3

The causes of embarrassment or feelings of social isolation in men with prostate cancer can vary greatly from person to person. However, no matter what leads you to experience these feelings, it is important to take note if they are impacting your quality of life or are leading to feelings of depression or anxiety. If these issues occur, seek medical attention immediately.

Combatting feelings of embarrassment or social isolation

Despite being common for men with prostate cancer, experiencing feelings of embarrassment or social isolation can be debilitating and frustrating at times. Because of this, it’s common for men to avoid talking about these struggles with their doctors, partners, or families. By not talking about these issues, these feelings may build up, and lead to significant impacts on a man’s overall wellbeing, including leading to depression or anxiety. For this reason, if you are struggling, it is critical to talk with your doctor about potential treatment options that may be right for you, or for specific tips on how to manage what is going on. How much you share about your feelings of embarrassment or social isolation, and who you share with, is completely up to you, however, enlisting the support of friends, family, spouses, partners, or close confidants may help ease the burden and ensure you that you know you are not alone.

Once you have communicated these feelings to your healthcare team or support system, there are several ways you can combat them. For example, your healthcare team may refer you to local in-person support groups with individuals who are struggling either with prostate cancer or similar prostate cancer-related symptoms. In joining these groups, individuals can share stories, tips, and support to make coping with these issues less overwhelming. If you are not ready to join an in-person support group, there are many online groups and communities (like ours) that can help you find the support you seek without having to leave the house until you’re ready. Additionally, once you open up to friends or family about the feelings you’re experiencing, they may help you find ways to reconnect with others or provide you with extra support (both emotionally or physically if you need assistance with prostate cancer-related symptoms while out in public).

Also, if there are specific symptoms that are keeping you from leaving your home or are causing significant feelings of embarrassment, such as urinary incontinence, bowel problems, or sexual dysfunction, your doctor may be able to provide you with recommendations to manage these issues if you share your struggles with them. They may also be able to refer you to counselors or therapists if need be. How you choose to manage feelings of embarrassment or social isolation is up to you, however, enlisting the support of others and communicating your frustrations is a great place to start.1,2