Advanced Prostate Cancer

Caregiving for men

Learn how to best support the patient

Men play important roles in every society: as mentors, husbands, grandfathers, fathers, sons, coaches, income earners and friends. So when they’re diagnosed with prostate cancer at an advanced stage, it can affect a large number of people. For many men, however, it’s a challenge to embrace the idea of someone else taking care of them while maintaining their privacy.

The diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer indicates that the disease has spread beyond the prostate gland, and either the cancer has grown or the treated cancer has recurred. With this diagnosis, men are often disheartened, slow to believe the diagnosis, or even in denial.

One of the most beneficial things you can do to help someone with advanced prostate cancer is learn all you can about the disease. This will make you better able to help him with treatment decisions, and manage side effects and the day-to-day tasks associated with prostate cancer. Caregivers may need to schedule doctor visits, accompany their loved one when he meets with his health care professional, and take notes at appointments. It’s a good idea to attend these appointments prepared with questions, such as what side effects are common for certain treatments or how to manage any symptoms he’s experiencing. It’s also important to ask about all of the treatment options available for his specific diagnosis so that you both can make the most informed decisions possible. Prostate cancer, even in its advanced stages, can be slow-growing, and many men live in good health for many years. Treatment options and their side effects, however, may require continued physical, emotional and spiritual care.

If you’re his partner as well as his caregiver, treatment for prostate cancer can cause sexual concerns for both of you. Depending on treatment, erectile dysfunction may occur, which is the loss of the ability to get or maintain an erection and the loss of sex drive (see here). Other side effects, such as infertility and incontinence, may result from prostate cancer treatments. Many men with these side effects often don't want to talk about the issues; however, open and honest conversation with your partner is important for both of you. Talk about your sexual relationship as it was before treatment and as a result of treatment, and discuss the alternatives you have so that you can both find satisfaction. Ask the doctor about recovery time after certain procedures and the possibility of restoring sexual function.

Don’t be afraid to suggest therapy or a support group for help dealing with the physical and emotional challenges associated with prostate cancer. Experts emphasize that healthy communication is a key factor to successfully navigating the tasks and decisions involved with advanced disease. Good communication can also aid in minimizing any fears and frustrations. Support groups are often good resources to enhance communication between a man living with advanced prostate cancer and his caregiver.

At times, caregivers have difficulty with finding the middle ground between being appropriately positive and becoming unnecessarily frantic. According to experts, many caregivers falsely begin to operate under the belief that if they do enough, they can keep their loved one alive. The fever-pitched activity, or even caring for their loved one for a number of years, can become emotionally and physically exhausting. Caregivers do not have the power to keep a loved one alive; a more realistic goal may be to keep their loved one comfortable. A confident caregiver is one who can identify, build and use his or her strengths in service to the patient. And it’s critical that you take care of yourself so that you can provide the best possible care for your loved one. Remember, it’s OK to ask for help, and you should never feel guilty about taking some much-needed time for yourself. By keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy, you are better able to function as an important member of your loved one’s care team.