Support for partners and family

This page is for anyone who is close to a man affected by prostate cancer, whether you're a partner, family member or friend. 

Contents

Getting information about prostate cancer

Many partners, family and friends of men with prostate cancer find that learning more about prostate cancer and its treatment is helpful. It can help you support your loved one when they need to make decisions about treatment.

Knowing more about prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment helps you to prepare for what will happen and the possible side effects of treatment. All treatments for prostate cancer have a risk of side effects such as:

A treatment called hormone therapy can also cause other side effects.

All treatments have different side effects, which can have an impact on a man's everyday life and the lives of those close to him. But there are ways to manage side effects.

You, your partner or family could attend a learning day about living with and after cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support, the Expert Patients Programme, Penny Brohn Cancer Care, Maggie's Centres, Carers Trust and Carers UK offer this type of service.

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Supporting someone with prostate cancer

If you are close to a man with prostate cancer you are likely to want to support him and be there for him. Doing something to help might also ease your own feelings of distress and help you feel more in control. But be aware of your limits and recognise that you don't have to do everything. Could other friends or family help out with some things?

It is not unusual for men with prostate cancer to feel worried or low. If you notice that your loved one is finding it difficult to cope, encourage him to speak to his GP or doctor or nurse.

There are treatments and support available. He can also call our Specialist Nurses on our confidential helpline or the Samaritans (open 24 hours) on 08457 90 90 90.

What can I do to help?
All men with prostate cancer are different and what helps one may not be right for another. 

  • Talking about it. Many men with prostate cancer value being able to talk to those close to them about how they are feeling. Macmillan Cancer Support have information about how to talk to someone with cancer. Of course, some men won't want to talk about things.
  • Just being there. Some men say that just having family and friends around is enough. Just chatting about normal things and doing some everyday activities together might help. Encourage your loved one to see family and friends and to keep up with social activities and hobbies if he feels up to it.
  • Lifestyle changes. Many men with prostate cancer say that they want to be able to manage their side effects, themselves. This could involve, for example, changing their diet or being more physically active. Some partners and family members find that supporting their loved one to make lifestyle changes gives them a sense that they are doing something to help.
  • Going to appointments. You might be able to go along to hospital or GP appointments with your loved one or friend. Before you go, talk about any questions you have. Some people find it helps to take notes or to ask the doctor to record the conversation on a tape or an MP3 player. This can help you to keep track of important details.
  • Help at home. Some men with prostate cancer have difficulty carrying out their usual activities. This could be because of side effects or because they are recovering from treatment. Try not to take on too much yourself. This will help make sure that you don't tire yourself out and will help your loved one maintain his independence. If you could do with some extra help in the home, get in touch with your local authority's social services department or your GP to see if they can give you some advice or support.

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Looking after yourself

The diagnosis of a loved one can have a big impact on your life, so make sure you look after yourself. This is important for your sake and so that you can support your loved one.

Each person's response to being close to a man with prostate cancer will be different. But you may be dealing with some of the feelings below.

Some people close to a man with prostate cancer go on to develop anxiety and depression. If you are feeling very down or worried and are finding it difficult to cope, there are treatments and support available. Speak to your GP or call a Specialist Nurse on our confidential helpline, or contact Carers UK. If you need to speak to someone immediately, ring the Samaritans (open 24 hours a day) on 08457 90 90 90.

Thinking about the future
It's natural to find it difficult and upsetting to think about the future - particularly if your loved one has advanced prostate cancer. Many men will have successful treatment and live with cancer for many years although the outlook for other men won't be as good. But you might find that making plans helps you feel more prepared for what the future may hold, and reassured about the future for your family.  

What can help?

  • Be kind to yourself. It is natural to have negative feelings, so go easy on yourself. Don't expect to have all the answers. Everyone has their own way of coping.
  • Getting information. Knowing what side effects your loved one might get, can help you prepare for the impact these might have on you.
  • Health professionals. You could talk to your own GP, practice nurse, or any other health professionals about how you are feeling. You can also call our Specialist Nurses on our confidential helpline.
  • Friends and family can provide a good support network. This might be practical support or having someone to talk to about how you feel. Think of friends or family who might be able to help with certain tasks. For example, driving to appointments when you can't go, collecting prescriptions, doing some shopping or cleaning if you're too busy, or looking after your children for a few hours.
  • Support groups. You could get in touch with your local prostate cancer support group. Many support groups welcome partners, friends and relatives.
  • Online communities. Sign up to the Prostate Cancer UK online community, where you can share your views and experiences with others affected by prostate cancer.
  • One-to-one telephone peer support. Call our Specialist Nurses on our confidential helpline who will match you, where possible, with one of our volunteers who has had similar experiences.
  • Counselling. Some people find it easier to talk to someone they don't know. Counsellors can help you understand your feelings and find your own answers. Your GP might be able to refer you to a counsellor. You can also find a counsellor yourself. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has information about counsellors in your area.
  • Spiritual support. You may find that your beliefs offer you great comfort or support. Get spiritual support if you need it. This could be from your friends or family. Or it could be from your religious leader or faith community.
  • Make time for yourself. Do something nice for yourself at least once a week. You could have a cup of tea with a friend, buy a book or do some gardening.
  • Look after your health. People close to those with cancer can sometimes find that their own health gets worse. This might be because of stress or because they have become a full-time carer. Or because they don't have the time to look after themselves properly.

Work and money
If you are caring for a man with prostate cancer, you may be entitled to time off work or flexible working. Your manager should be sensitive to the fact that you're coping with cancer.

If you or your partner reduce your working hours this will impact on your financial situation but you might be entitled to certain benefits and grants. It can help to get some financial advice to make sure you're getting all the help you need. The following organisations offer more information.    

  • Macmillan Cancer Support provides financial information and advice to people affected by cancer.
  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau offers independent and confidential advice, including help with benefits forms.
  • Call the Benefits Enquiry Line on 0800 882 200 or 0800 220 674 in Northern Ireland.
  • Carers UK provides information about financial help for carers.

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Relationships and family life

A diagnosis of prostate cancer can change relationships, friendships and roles
within the family.

These changes can be difficult to come to terms with. But people find that they go through stages of adjusting and develop new ways of thinking about life and relationships. You might find some of these ideas can make life easier:

  • learning more about prostate cancer together
  • talking about things
  • making sure that you are getting all the support you need as a family.

Try to make sure that you make time for family activities, such as holidays.

Talking to children
Children can often sense that something is wrong even if they don't understand it. It usually helps to be honest with them.

Macmillan Cancer Support has more information about talking to children about cancer. You could also ask your GP or specialist nurse for advice.

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If you are a partner

Prostate cancer and its treatments can affect a man's sex life. If you are a partner of a man with prostate cancer, you might need particular support for relationship and sexual issues.

Sex and relationships
Some partners feel very distressed and may go on to develop anxiety and depression. This can affect how you feel about sex. You may go through:

  • changes to how you feel about yourself - if your partner has a low sex drive this might make you feel less desirable or attractive
  • feeling frustrated or unsatisfied if your sex drive is higher than your partner's or you are having less sexual contact
  • anger or sadness at the loss of the old ways of being together
  • guilt for still having sexual feelings.

Your own desire for sex may change after your partner's diagnosis and during treatment. For example, if you are feeling anxious, you may have less interest in sex. Changes in your relationship, such as changed roles, may also affect how you feel about sex.

It is important to get some support for yourself, perhaps without your partner. Talking to other partners who are experiencing the same thing or getting some counselling may improve things.

Read more about this in our booklet Prostate cancer and your sex life. Watch videos of men talking about their own experiences of sex after prostate cancer.

If you are gay or bisexual find out more about being included at appointments as a partner in Prostate facts for gay and bisexual men.

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