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Every man reacts differently to a diagnosis, says Andrew Roth, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York who counsels men diagnosed with prostate cancer and other diseases. He’s also the author of the book Managing Prostate Cancer: A Guide For Living Better. When asked for one piece of advice for those who have gotten a prostate cancer diagnosis, Roth says this: “Take it a step at a time.”
Based on more than two decades of experience, Roth shared these tips to help men cope with a prostate cancer diagnosis.
- Listen to your doctor, not the internet. All men are different, and all men experience prostate cancer differently. Because of that, says Roth, it’s important to seek out medical advice from a doctor, rather than focusing on what you read online. “[Men] spend a lot of time online trying to figure out the best treatment for them,” he says. “[The internet] doesn’t know them, it doesn’t know their bodies, it doesn’t know their family background … it often makes them more confused.” Roth advises that men should gather information from a urologist and possibly from a radiation oncologist and medical oncologist to find out what treatment is best for the individual.
- Make peace with your treatment decision. Whether surgery, radiation therapy or another treatment approach, Roth says that what his patients fear most is potential for sexual side effects, urinary side effects and/or bowel problems following treatment. In his professional experience, he’s observed that many men will “beat themselves up” about their treatment choice if they end up with those developments. “It’s like buyers’ remorse,” he says. He tells his patients that the “right” decision is the path they choose —whatever it may be – and questioning their treatment decision is not likely to help them in the healing process.
- Find a way to relieve stress. Roth reminds his patients of the importance of stress relief. He works with them on relaxation exercises as well as meditation. He also encourages them to exercise. “Even taking a 20- to 30-minute walk most of the days of the week will improve mood, decrease anxiety, help with sleep and help with focus,” says Roth. And when it comes to exercise, his mantra is “something is better than nothing.”
- Repeat what your doctor tells you. It’s common for patients to feel anxious during a doctor’s visit and struggle to fully understand what the physician is saying. Often, patients can benefit from bringing a spouse, partner, adult child or friend along to an appointment to listen, he says. Before leaving the doctor’s office, Roth says it’s useful for the patient to try and summarize to the doctor what they heard. “They may not be able to feed everything back to the doctor, but if they can feed back some of the primary points, I think they’re much more likely to walk out of there and say, ‘I have a handle on this,’” he says.
- Consider talking with a psychiatrist or psychologist. A cancer diagnosis can be a scary thing, and Roth says that speaking with a professional about those fears may be helpful. “I don't think one has to be having a major depression or a serious anxiety disorder to benefit from talking about these issues,” he says. If a person’s emotions, behaviors or thoughts are interfering with their daily life, or they’re withdrawing from friends and social activities, they may want to consider seeking professional help.
By talking with their healthcare providers about their treatment plan and seeking out support and stress-relieving activities, men can take a proactive role in their mental and physical health when diagnosed with prostate cancer.
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