While prostate cancer is a men’s disease, its impact is significant on women who are the wives and partners of prostate cancer patients.
Often with searing brutality, a partner’s diagnosis can turn a woman’s life upside down. Suddenly, life becomes defined as “before” and “after”, as multiple challenges emerge, and while navigating the optimal diagnostic and treatment programme to ensure the survival and health of her partner is first and foremost for most women, other aspects of the disease can rear their ugly head in insidious, uncomfortable and sometimes painful ways.
For some men, mental health is compromised by a prostate cancer diagnosis and in some cases through certain types of treatment, and both anxiety and depression are common side effects that begin to play a role in a couple’s relationship and ability to navigate the treatment journey. This can be exacerbated by the state of each party’s emotional health, as feelings of fear, anger, and guilt come to the fore.
The prospect of various treatment side effects compromising a couple’s sexual relationship can be terrifying for many women, and for individuals who find this uncomfortable to talk about long-term relationship damage can ensue. Reduced sexual and urinary function will of course affect a man’s sense of masculinity and how this translates into an intimate relationship is something that most men and their partners are not prepared for. Many women feel isolated from their partners because of it.
It’s not just the emotional aspects that are felt by women. The uncertainty that a prostate cancer diagnosis brings coupled with new challenges in the relationship mean that for many women they must adopt new roles and identities. Sometimes these are uncomfortable, and sometimes they are empowering.
“Suddenly I had to take on the role of nurse, accountant, handyman and actress” says Vivian Pipe, sharing her experience with Prostate Cancer UK.
When her husband Barry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019, Jackie Reubin developed a side of her personality she had never before revealed and became a patient advocate. She held high expectations for her husband’s care and when she felt this wasn’t being delivered, she navigated another route. One of her main concerns with initial consultations was what she perceived to be age discrimination. “Barry is 75 but a very young 75, and I felt he was being written off” she says. It was Jackie who researched treatment options and found the Focal Therapy Clinic where Barry was treated with HIFU by Raj Nigam. She and Barry share their story in our video here.
If you have a story to share about how prostate cancer has affected your experience as a woman and partner, please share it with us so we in turn can help other women who are struggling with prostate cancer.