9 Ways to Live Better With Prostate Cancer

We asked health professionals and people living with prostate cancer for their best tips on strengthening your body and boosting your spirits.

Deborah Pike Olsen

From leaning on loved ones to fending off stress to trying a new hobby, taking a few simple steps can help improve your overall outlook and better equip you to handle life with prostate cancer. Don’t just take our word for it. Read on, as people with prostate cancer and experts reveal their go-to strategies for staying healthy.

1. Tell loved ones how they can help
When Jim Higley, author of Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he gave each of his three kids and his friends “jobs.” His youngest son’s assignment was to hug him every day, his daughter’s role was to give him a daily dose of encouragement via cards and “cheers,” and his older son’s job was to play the guitar. “Despite the heaviness of what was around me, I felt blessed,” he recalls. He also asked a friend to email cartoons and jokes to him daily. “Lean on others and ask for what you need,” he says.

2. Take charge of your pain
Depression affects about 10% to 16% of men with advanced prostate cancer, according to a study published in Psycho-Oncology. “If you manage pain well, depression often improves dramatically,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to tell your urologist or oncologist how you’re feeling. Report any signs of depression, including excessive worrying, decreased energy, a loss of interest in pleasurable activities (such as watching football) and feeling hopeless.

3. Stay involved
“It’s easy to become self-absorbed and let the world shrink,” says Craig Pynn, 65, a patient in Walnut Creek, CA, and author of One Man's Life-Changing Diagnosis. Active in his church and a consumer reviewer for the Prostate Cancer Research Program, Craig says, “I want to pay it forward. I’m the beneficiary of many guys who have helped me [by developing effective treatments].”

4. Reach out online
“It’s important to have an outlet to talk about your experiences,” says Dan Zenka, a senior vice president of the Prostate Cancer Foundation who blogs about his experience with advanced prostate cancer. “The anonymity of a blog offers a comfortable environment in which you can open up.” Blogging can also help you connect with other patients, as can Facebook pages and websites for men with prostate cancer. “When I go online, I meet others in the same circumstance,” says Craig. “There are things I can’t talk about with my best friend.”

5. Reconnect with your partner
You likely know hormonal treatment can put a damper on your sex drive and surgery can interfere with intercourse. Fortunately, intimacy isn’t defined by sex. Nonsexual touching—such as holding hands and hugging—can help you stay connected, as can praying, crying and even looking at photo albums together, says Patrick Plumeri, a medical family therapist at the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, NC. Indeed, Craig and his wife found new ways to express their affection. “We lie down together and cuddle,” he says. “When we hug, she gets to do it as long as she wants to, and she gets to let go.”

6. Stamp out stress
Meditating, listening to music, getting a massage or undergoing acupuncture can help quiet your mind, says Anthony Provazza, an oncology clinical social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital who runs a prostate cancer support group. A bonus? Acupuncture may also offer relief from treatment-related hot flashes and fatigue. “I have been battling metastatic prostate cancer for almost four years,” says Tim McGuire, who finds peace by meditating. “I get blasted with hormones every day. But every day can be a good day…you just have to find the right road to your ‘safe place.’ ”

7. Acknowledge what’s happening with humor
‘Be open about your journey,’ advises Dan, who experienced intense hot flashes and mood swings when he was undergoing hormonal treatment. “At work, I’d pull off my jacket during a meeting and say, ‘Excuse me, I’m having a hot flash.’ ”

When he was in a bad mood, he’d give a humorous warning. When he was in a good mood, he’d share it with others. ‘I’d have laughing fits sparked by a word that wasn’t even funny," says Dan. ‘They would last 10 to 15 minutes. I told coworkers and family members about it, and they laughed with me.’ ”

8. Try something new
Dan recently took up the saxophone. “When I’m practicing, I’m anywhere but ‘cancer land,’ ” he says. “It takes your mind off things.” Also, if you’re unable to work, a hobby can give you a new sense of purpose in life, says Patrick. “Do something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had time for,” he says. Craig, who enjoys landscape photography, bought himself a top-of-the-line camera and lens after he was diagnosed with cancer. “I’ve been so busy [my whole life] that slowing down and appreciating creation has been good,” he says.

9. Steer clear of temptation
When you’re feeling down, don’t turn to comfort food. Bad idea—especially if you’re on hormone therapy, which can lead to weight gain. Craig, who has been on hormone therapy for three years, gave up processed foods and red meat and switched to a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fish, produce and healthy fats like olive oil. “Changing my diet has even helped me lose a few pounds,” he says. Eating well also has a psychological benefit. Says Anthony: “When a guy improves his quality of life, it helps him feel more confident and in control.”

April 2013