“We need a better understanding of how men with prostate cancer experience their illness and how they choose to adapt their new circumstances,” says district nurse Annikki Jonsson, who interviewed 37 men with prostate cancer for her thesis. “We can then support them better and tailor their treatment to the phase they are in.”
The results show that the men go through different phases of adjustment in succession after getting their diagnosis, and that their everyday lives are affected differently according to which phase they are in. Those with less serious prostate cancer find themselves in an emotional vacuum immediately after receiving their diagnosis. During this phase, which normally lasts around a week, it is pointless for medical personnel to try to give men information about their illness.
“But they do appreciate positive reception without pity during this initial phase. And, of course, if they do choose to get in touch and ask some questions, it’s important to answer and tell where you can turn to with diffrent thoughts.”
Once these men have negotiated this initial phase, they regain control over their lives and find their driving force for life. They begin actively seek out information about their illness.
Men who learn that they have an aggressive form of prostate cancer find that the disease is allways at present and they feel often a sense of emptiness during the initial period following the diagnosis. For these men, the disease is an existential threat. They think a lot about how the future will be and how they will die.
“The men I interviewed said that they lived life more intense, but that they had their ups and downs,” says Jonsson. “Sometimes they felt more alive, and in the next minute got a feeling that they risked losing control or being reminded of their changed masculinity.”
The men were interviewed again two years after receiving their diagnosis. They told that they had realised that life is fragile, and they were aware that they did not know how long the life will be. They got more faith and trust in life and had discovered that they could preserve their autonomy and integrity despite their illness.
“Life changes, and it’s important to achieve some kind of balance,” says Jonsson. “The men focused their energy on the relationships which were valuable for them. They appreciated the little things in life in a different way nowadays and developed an inner strength to be true to themselves.”
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in Sweden. Each year around 2,500 men die from the disease and a further 9,000 receive the diagnosis. Many of the tumours grow very slowly and produce no symptoms, but the disease can also be more aggressive and result in secondary tumours in the lymph nodes and bones. Prostate cancer can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the stage of the tumour, the age of the patient and the problems caused.