You probably remember the doctor’s exact words as he looked at your partner. “The test results show that you have localized prostate cancer. You won’t die from it, but you will need treatment.”. You probably didn’t absorb anything else that was said. But as the doctor shook your partner’s hand while saying goodbye, you heard him say “You’ll be fine”.

Preparing for change

But it’s a bit more complicated than that, at least for a while. Most men will, in fact, be fine, but ‘fine’ does not necessarily mean ‘the same as before’. For some men, life will return to normal, but for most men and their partners there will be a “new normal”. The two most commonly recommended treatments, surgery, and radiation come with temporary or permanent physical changes.

Depending on the treatment, these changes can include urinary incontinence, the loss of spontaneous erections, a slightly shorter penis, infertility, loss of physical fitness, ejaculating without releasing seminal fluid or releasing a bit of urine instead. Knowing what to expect will make it much easier to manage issues as they arise.

Men may worry that their partner is dissatisfied with their inability to achieve a spontaneous erection. Whether or not this is actually the case, it is important to acknowledge that one or both of you may experience a sense of loss. No matter how prepared you think you are, you will both have a wide range of emotions throughout the process.

Sadness, frustration, fear, anger, resignation, anxiety about decision making, being overwhelmed, longing for the return of normal, or even just wanting to be held and taken care of are all normal feelings. If these feelings become constant or overwhelming for either of you, it is important to get professional help.

Supporting your loved one

Emotional challenges

All of these unwelcome emotions can naturally cause either or both of you to be irritable, leading to out-of-the-ordinary arguments over things unrelated to prostate cancer. Keep in mind that you are both under stress and try to let things go, rather than taking a less-than-kind remark, tone of voice, or unusual self-absorption personally. If your loved one seems withdrawn remember that he is handling his emotions as best as he can. It might be difficult for him to express his feelings. “What are you feeling?” rather than “how are you feeling?” is one way to begin a conversation.

It’s ok to admit that you don’t understand all of his feelings, as long as you don’t try to talk him out of them. He needs to know that you respect his concerns even if you don’t share them. The website cancer.org provides helpful information on ‘listening with your heart’.

If your partner will lose all or part of needed income during treatment, discuss in advance how to manage expenses. He might feel that as if he is failing as the provider, and it is important that he knows that you don’t blame him or consider him a failure in any way.

Physical Challenges

Radiation protocols and/or recovery from surgery can be exhausting. Your partner might need additional assistance with dressing, laundry, and meals, but he should return to his baseline level within a few weeks. For both his sake and yours, have backup help available even if you think you can manage it all alone.

Some of the effects of treatment might leave your partner feeling robbed of his dignity. As much as possible, be matter-of-fact about dealing with those situations. Reassure him that incontinence and erectile dysfunction are temporary and that you will love him no matter how long they last.

If your partner has had surgery he might come home from the hospital with a urinary catheter and a drain to help eliminate post-surgical blood and fluid buildup. One of you will have to periodically empty the drain. This is simple to do, and the nursing staff will walk you or your partner through it step by step before he is discharged.

Immediately following the surgery and for weeks or possibly months after, your partner will not be able to hold his urine. He will need to wear absorbent underwear or pads until he regains control. Provided that they are changed regularly, the underwear or pads shouldn’t be noticeable to others. Occasionally it can take up to a year to regain continence, and some men will continue to have a bit of residual leaking.

You should make sure that his doctor explains how to do Kegel pelvic floor exercises for urinary control, and if your partner doesn’t object, remind him to do his exercises as directed. You can do them together because Kegels are helpful for women as well!

Adapting to change

It is completely appropriate and normal for you to have concerns about the effect of his treatment on your relationship. During and immediately after surgery or radiation, your partner’s sex drive is likely to be temporarily diminished. This is in no way a reflection of his feelings or attraction towards you, and it is important to remember that your loved one finds you just as sexy and alluring as ever. If necessary, give him a very gentle reminder that you appreciate when he expresses his admiration.

Even after the sex drive returns, difficulty having a spontaneous erection is common for a while after surgery. With time, most men will be able to have an erection closely equivalent to their erections prior to treatment, either with or without some form of medical intervention. Some medical centers provide penile rehabilitation therapy which may help to speed up the process. Speak with the doctor If you are concerned that things are not working or are taking longer than expected.

Leaking urine during orgasm can be expected for a while after surgery, or may begin years after radiation. This is not dangerous, but in order to minimize it, your partner should empty his bladder prior to lovemaking. He can also limit bladder-irritating substances such as chocolate and caffeine, and he can limit his consumption of extra liquid in the hours beforehand. You can also try having your partner lie on his back. Keeping towels handy, and having a sense of humor can also be helpful, as long as your partner shares your sense of humor.

Until your partner has erections sufficient for intercourse, it is important that you both find other ways to express intimacy. Simple acts of love and affection can maintain and even strengthen emotional bonds. Noticing a new hairstyle, leaving a “Hello, Beautiful!” note by the toothbrush, calling to check in, preparing a favorite meal, holding hands while watching TV, warming cold feet in bed, kissing, and when he is ready, sexual activity without penetration are just a few of many ways to keep the fire going. Women can have orgasms without penetration and men can have orgasms without an erection.

None of this is meant to say that you won’t mourn the loss of ‘normal’, even if it is temporary. Sometimes changes in erectile function last longer or are more significant than you had been told to expect. For many couples, that may be the case. You might find it very helpful to connect with others going through similar experiences. Online or in-person support groups, or talking with friends or a therapist can be extremely helpful in helping you to adapt to and accept changes. Do be sure to respect any wishes your partner has for privacy and agree on who you will discuss his condition with.

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How Halza can help

The Halza app allows you to securely store, track and share your medical data with your doctors and loved ones. Clear communication is important during difficult times so keep connected with the Halza app chat feature. The app also allows you to schedule health reminders to keep track of any treatment appointments. Store test results and updates in one convenient place and have it with you at all times. Monitoring and supporting your loved ones’ health progress is also made easier with the Circles feature on the app.