We’ll Say It So You Don’t Have To: PROSTATE CANCER IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF!
Let’s get real for a minute. Many men experience shame as a result of their prostate cancer diagnosis. Why? There is no concrete answer to this, objectively prostate cancer is no more cause for shame than blood cancer or brain cancer. But if we look at prostate cancer objectively, we can begin to unravel the stigma that, left unchecked, can be responsible for the death of men from prostate cancer.
Let’s start from the beginning: testing. We at PCF like to remind men that testing for prostate cancer starts with a simple blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA). Your doctor may also recommend a digital rectal exam (DRE) as part of getting tested for prostate cancer. The taboo speaks for itself, and it is understandable that men may not be keen to undergo the procedure. But a DRE takes only a few minutes and could provide key information to your provider to help assess your risk of prostate cancer. Having a DRE at the appropriate age puts you in the class of men who are smart enough to put your health above your ego, and there is zero shame in belonging to that group.
“Weakness” during treatment. Treatment looks different from patient to patient, but whether undergoing surgery, radiation, a combination of both, or any of the other many treatments available for prostate cancer, it’s likely that treatment will temporarily set you back and require you to adjust your regular routine, at least for a while.
It is the nature of many people, particularly men, to not show weakness in any situation. But being aware that treatment for prostate cancer may shake you up both physically and emotionally, you can save you and your loved ones a lot of grief by accepting that upfront. You have cancer, for crying out loud! It’s okay to take it easy and it is okay to ask for help. Be honest with yourself about what you can take on, and where you may need to lay off.
Here’s the biggie: side effects. Perhaps the biggest reason many men with prostate cancer harbor shame is due to the side effects of the disease. Because a number of the possible side effects of prostate cancer and its treatments relate to very private aspects of a person’s life, it is completely understandable that patients may feel embarrassed.
Side effects of prostate cancer treatment may disrupt normal urinary, bowel, and sexual function. However, it is important to remember that they occur by no fault of your own, and that there are many ways to manage them.
Side effects vary from person to person depending on each individual’s anatomy, stage of cancer, and treatment options. It is crucial to discuss your treatment options, possible side effects they may have, and your priorities in regards to what aspects of quality of life are most important to you with your doctor upon diagnosis. Remember, early management of side effects has been shown to help patients life longer, healthier lives.
Removing the stigma and shame around prostate cancer is everyone’s job. We can do this by telling our stories – as publicly as a blog post or keynote address, or as privately as talking to a friend – and by supporting patients and families. Our best hope in all of this is to find prostate cancer earlier and fund research that will provide better treatments. These are all things that we will accomplish by speaking up, not by suffering in silence and shame.