Lean On Me: When Your Partner Is Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer

Hearing that your spouse has prostate cancer is scary and perplexing. But you can get through it—together. Knowing exactly how you can help is half the battle. Here are some
ways you can support your partner.

Once you hear those two words—prostate cancer—it’s anyone’s guess (even your own) how you and your spouse will react. That’s why it’s critical to make sure the lines of communication are open.

“If you don’t talk openly, you’ll both hold a lot inside,” says Dan Zenka, senior vice president of communications for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Zenka was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2010 while working for the foundation.

As a caregiver, your next step: Start researching. “It’s very helpful if the spouse gets up to speed on the disease,” Zenka says. Go online, head to the library or talk to someone who has faced the same diagnosis. This will take the unknowns out of the equation and give you a better idea of what you and your spouse are facing.


Plan to accompany your spouse to each and every doctor appointment. Before you go in, write a list of questions together, and bring a notebook for taking notes. “Prior to a doctor visit, my wife and I compare notes and questions we have,” Zenka says. “After, we’ll ask each other, ‘Did you understand that?’ If not, we’ll call the doctor or go online for clarification. It’s important to have someone there to double-check what you think you hear so nothing falls through the cracks.”

And don’t be afraid to speak up with your own questions, says Kimberly Stump-Sutliff, R.N., associate medical editor for the American Cancer Society. Have the doctor draw pictures or show you an illustration if it will help you both understand, she adds. Ask your spouse if he’d like time alone with the doctor to ask personal questions—things he might want to ask by himself.

To further support your spouse, volunteer to take on the task of requesting copies of test results and other medical records and shuttling the necessary information to the right medical professional. There’s no guarantee that his medical records will be accessible five years from now, so it’s smart to get copies now, Stump-Sutliff says.


Being the person your spouse can rely on to talk to about his journey with prostate cancer is invaluable, but don’t forget to talk about the day-to-day stuff, too—things that don’t involve the “c” word.

“Designate a time of day that the two of you don’t talk about cancer—maybe it’s dinner time,” Stump-Sutliff says. “That way, you both feel there is another life beyond the diagnosis. You’re the perfect person to remind him there’s life beyond prostate cancer.”

Last but not least, take care of yourself. That means eating right, getting regular medical checkups and exercising. You need to be at your best to support your spouse.

“My wife is very good at making sure I have time to do relaxation exercises and get the rest I need,” Zenka says. “The spouse needs to do the same. Go out with friends. Get a massage. Make yourself feel good because you need to.”

Exploring Your Options

It’s estimated that more than 240,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, the National Cancer Institute reports. That makes it the most common cancer, besides nonmelanoma skin cancer, in the U.S. And it’s a tricky disease.

“Every prostate cancer diagnosis is different,” says Ronald Anglade, M.D., a urologist at Gwinnett Medical Center. “And the treatments offered to our patients should be specific to the individual.”

There are, however, three common approaches.
  • Surgery: A prostatectomy involves the removal of the prostate. Side effects include impotence and incontinence. Gwinnett Medical Center–Duluth is the only hospital in Gwinnett to offer a robotic surgical approach to treat prostate cancer. Learn more about this technology at gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/robotic.
  • Radiation therapy: Cancer cells are targeted and killed with radiation. This option can also come with the same side effects as surgery.
  • Hormone therapy: Because testosterone fuels prostate cancer cell growth, in hormone therapy (also known as androgen-deprivation therapy), drugs are used to stop testosterone from being released in the body. The drawback includes something like male menopause, Dr. Anglade says. “There can be sexual desire problems, hot flashes and erection problems.”


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