What to Do When Your Man Has Prostate Cancer

When your partner has prostate cancer, it can turn your comfortable relationship upside down. Here's how to face the diagnosis together.

Bob Hill
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What to do, what to say, how to listen—it can be tricky. Here, seven-year prostate cancer survivor Bob Hill, 55, author of Dead Men Don’t Have Sex, offers first-person insight that may help you respond with care and compassion and even take your relationship to the next level.

Talking about prostate cancer 
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, I asked my wife of 25 years, Charlotte, what scared her most about the disease:

“That you’ll die,” she said.

“What scares you?” she asked.

“That I’ll live and our sex life will die!” I said.

Like a lot of men, I mistakenly believed a prostate cancer diagnosis was a sexual death sentence. After all, the nerves controlling erection are located on either side of the prostate, and they may be removed or damaged during cancer treatment. That’s why your partner might need help with getting his bedroom mojo back.

Here’s what you can do:

Be his advocate. If your guy is too shy to address sexual issues with his doctor, help make it easier by writing down the questions for him. For example,

  • I’m having trouble achieving an erection suitable for intercourse. Would a stronger dose of my current medication help or would you suggest another erectile dysfunction medication?
  • When could I try it?
  • Is reconstructive surgery something I should consider?

Tip: If you’re accompanying your partner into the exam room, say, “Do you mind if I ask the doctor some questions about our sex life?” That way, your partner won’t feel blindsided or embarrassed when you speak up.

Offer reassurance. My ego got a major boost when Charlotte assured me that any sexual side effects of prostate cancer wouldn’t derail our marriage or define us as a couple. Saying something like “Our bond is deeper and stronger than anything that happens in the bedroom, and I’m with you every step of the way” reminds your partner of your unconditional acceptance and boosts his confidence. In fact, Charlotte and I grew even closer as we researched treatment options, talked with physicians and explored different ways to achieve sexual satisfaction.

Broach delicate topics this way. Sure, experts tell you how important it is to communicate, but exactly how do you bring up your sex life? Wait for a time when you’re both relaxed, perhaps during a car ride, while taking a walk or sitting on a park bench—but definitely not while you’re lying in bed. Your partner is less likely to feel defensive during a side-by-side conversation that takes place outside the bedroom. As for what to say, try, “I miss feeling close to you. I miss cuddling and holding hands.” Talking about your feelings opens the door to a frank discussion.

Find a mantra. Whenever I was feeling depressed because of a treatment-related sexual challenge, my wife would say, “Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad.” It was her way of assuring me that we were both going to survive prostate cancer. It soon became our couple’s mantra and remains so to this day.

April 2013