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The Other Side of Coping with Prostate Cancer

by Michael A. Hoyt, PhD

Prostate Cancer Image

Avoiding the urge to close yourself off from loved ones can be an important tool for healing.

Inevitably, men encounter stressful situations, unpleasant circumstances, and a host of persistent physical and emotional challenges after a prostate cancer diagnosis. Regardless of the type of treatment received, physical changes, sleep problems, pain, and discomfort are just some of the difficulties faced by survivors.

In response, many men are typically quite good at doing. Actively approaching the decisions, situations, and circumstances surrounding prostate cancer can be an effective way to manage the diagnosis. For instance, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, many men go into “information-seeking” mode, trying to learn what they can about prostate cancer and the various treatment options. Collecting the facts, talking to medical professionals, and planning for the next steps can be helpful approaches to meeting new and difficult challenges.

At the same time, there is no denying that men also feel. Some find themselves overwhelmed with worry, feeling angry or sad, or finding it difficult to adjust to changes in their body or lifestyle. Men who utilize tools for managing their emotional responses to prostate cancer are better equipped for both the doing and the feeling that comes with adjusting to life after prostate cancer.

Accessing Your Network
Getting the support you need can be an important part of managing negative emotions after prostate cancer. Most people gain a sense of belonging, encouragement, inspiration, and reassurance from their relationships with other people. However, when we feel vulnerable, confused, or powerless, we sometimes react by isolating ourselves from others and from the very things that could be helpful to us during difficult times.

Women feel and men do – or so “the experts” say. But in order to best manage their disease, men with prostate cancer must also learn how to get in touch with their feeling side.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Michael Hoyt

Likewise, when we withdraw from other people, we miss the chance to provide support to others, thereby reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or self-blame. Of course, knowing what you need from others is sometimes difficult to determine. Figuring out who can provide the type of support you need and avoiding the urge to close yourself off from these people can be an important tool for healing. Support groups, Internet forums, and other opportunities to meet other men with prostate cancer can also provide a particular type of support that other people in your life may not be able to offer.

Sharing Your Feelings
There is something to the age-old wisdom of “not keeping it all bottled up.” Studies have shown that there are physical and psychological benefits to expressing your feelings. Some research even suggests that writing about what you feel in an attempt to understand and release your emotions may benefit you even if no one else reads it. Taking the time to consider your feelings and expressing those feelings can be beneficial in quelling negative emotions.

Rethinking It
Many people when faced with an unpleasant or stressful situation tend to focus on their negative feelings and allow those feelings to paralyze them. Tuning into how you think may be as useful as knowing what you think in order to overcome inertia and move beyond negativity. When faced with a difficult challenge, ask yourself these questions: What did I learn from this? How can I do this better? What positive result could come from this? The process of searching for the good in a bad situation can help you work through your feelings, allow you to reinterpret the situation, and provide you with a new way to think about that situation the next time it occurs.

Avoiding Avoidance
We all need an escape from time to time. Engaging in activities we love can be a terrific way to give ourselves a healthy distraction from worries, concerns, and even physical discomfort. However, denying what we feel, pretending that what is happening around us isn’t occurring, or using unhealthy means of escape (like alcohol or drugs) will only make things worse. In fact, research has shown that men with prostate cancer who regularly avoid their feelings, deny what is happening, or ignore reality tend to experience more difficulties, more negative feelings, and even worsening physical symptoms.

Life after prostate cancer is difficult in new ways for many men. Old ways of coping may not be the best match for new kinds of problems. Men who recognize that adding feeling tools to their doing tools will be better able to handle the challenges of prostate cancer.

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Dr. Michael Hoyt is an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts at the University of California, Merced.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.