Being diagnosed with prostate cancer can be frightening and isolating that leaves you with the weight of many feelings, like fear, sadness, and anger. These feelings of isolation and overwhelming emotions do not need to be carried alone. Support groups can be a place for you to turn to release pent up emotions and be supported by other men who are going through a similar experience. These support communities are a powerful means for men living with prostate cancer to learn about the disease while gaining a social support system to connect with during diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and beyond. If you have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, read on to learn about the power of prostate cancer support groups.
In 2020,1.4 million men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common cause of cancer in men worldwide. Being diagnosed with prostate cancer can cause men to experience psychological distress. Anxiety, depression, and fear are shared emotional experiences in all people who live with cancer. However, there are unique psychosocial burdens specific to me with prostate cancer. These include fear of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) assessments and anxiety associated with change of sexual function
Prostate cancer is a treatable disease and the psychological burden associated with the disease is not just associated with the stage of the disease. Many men with prostate cancer often have increased anxiety about how cancer diagnosis will affect their daily lives. Common concerns shared by men include with prostate cancer include:
- Burden of financial cost of treatment
- Side effects of treatment, like erectile dysfunction and incontinence
- Stress associated with loss of libido
- Psychological effect of “loss of manliness”
These concerns can weigh heavy on a man, especially if they are kept hidden and carried alone.
Psychosocial Effects of Living With Cancer
Prostate cancer affects your life in so many ways. Apart from the weight of a diagnosis and enduring treatment, you must balance personal and professional relationships, work, and finances. The diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer may lead to sexual dysfunction and incontinence, both of which can cause a man to feel shame and embarrassment. The combination of the physical side effects with the psychological can severely impede your quality of life. However, you may be like many other men and not wish to talk about what you are going through because of embarrassment or to not show weakness.
Most men learn behavioral patterns that define what it is to be a man early on in life, with these patterns reinforced throughout their entire lives. Typically, the masculine role is defined as one that emphasizes:
From these standards, a man usually does not want to show weakness, appear fragile, or show an emotional vulnerability of any kind. In not wanting to appear weak or fragile, many men choose to suffer in silence. However, what may be needed is for these men to reach out and talk about their experience to help relieve the emotional burdens they carry. A support group whose members also are carrying similar experiences offers an environment where you can safely unload your burdens without judgement or shame.
The Power of Support
There are several benefits to joining a prostate cancer support support. These include the following:
- Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Increases your knowledge about treatment options
- Access to resources such as financial assistance programs
- Helps relieve distress, depression, fatigue, and/or anxiety
- Offers feedback about treatment
- Improves coping skills
- Peer support and camaraderie are reluctant to talk about their health, especially if they are dealing with an illness or disease of any sort.
Support groups are an excellent place to help men cope with the psychological burdens of living with prostate cancer. Cancer support group communities have been shown to help lift depression, relieve anxiety, and improve the overall psychological wellbeing of group members. Many men experience feelings of isolation and loneliness during the course of their disease treatment and recovery. Prostate cancer support groups encourage men to share their feelings and concerns in an atmosphere of camaraderie thus helping to reduce these feelings of isolation.
Lightens Psychological Burdens
The side effects of prostate cancer treatment can be particularly difficult to bear physically and psychologically. Side effects of prostate cancer treatment include:
- Urinary and bowel incontinence
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of libido
Men with prostate cancer often admit to increased anxiety associated with how these side effects impact their daily living. Depression is another psychological burden men carry due to the loss of sexual function and a “lack of manliness”.
Prostate cancer support communities help lighten the psychological burdens a man carries during diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Studies show that men who participate in prostate cancer support groups have a markedly lower incidence (8%) of depression than those who do not (30-40%). Why? In a support group, you make new friends who are either dealing with the same psychological side effects of living with prostate cancer or have lived through it and are now on the other side in recovery. There is a comfort in knowing you are surrounded by people who can truly understand your life experience. This comfort gives you the freedom to express some or all of your deepest emotions, fears, and concerns which ultimately lifts these burdens and emotional darkness subsides.
Builds a Network of Support
One of the most difficult aspects of living with cancer is isolation. Many men with prostate cancer do not feel comfortable opening up to their family and loved ones about their struggles. Others simply have no one to confide in, which leads to an inward spiral of anxiety and depression. This lack of support is the common cause of isolation in prostate cancer patients.
Thankfully, men who connect with a prostate cancer community report a marked reduction in these feelings of loneliness and isolation. Prostate cancer support groups provide opportunities for people touched by cancer to be supported emotionally and share valuable information about treatment options and how to cope with side effects. The dynamics of a supportive group gives members the opportunity to communicate with each other openly without worrying about causing fear or stress (which often happens with loved ones).
Another added factor in feelings of isolation is lack of knowledge about the disease, treatment options, and coping mechanisms. Prostate cancer support groups are an ideal place to exchange information and strategies. When faced with a problem, group members collaborate with each other to strategize ways to cope with issues that arise from treatment. This collaboration allows members to develop coping skills and learn information that expands their ability to understand their illness.
Helgason, A. R., Dickman, P. W., Adolfsson, J. & Gunnar Steineck. (2009, July 09). Emotional isolation: Prevalence and the effect on well-being among 50-80-year-old prostate cancer patients. Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology, 35(2). Retrieved from Taylor Francis Online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/003655901750170407
Santarelli, S., et., al. (2021, September 23). Prostate cancer support groups: The unadvertised camaraderie. Cureus, 18208. Retrieved from PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8544621/pdf/cureus-0013-00000018208.pdf
Weber, B. A., & Beverly L. Roberts. (2000). Exploring the efficacy of support groups for men with prostate cancer. Geriatric Nursing, 21(5), 250-253. Retrieved from PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4765803/
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