By: Dan Sperling, MD
“Big boys don’t cry.” How many of us, as young boys, got that message one way or another? Perhaps the world is changing and we no longer expect our sons to “tough it out” when they get scrapes and bruises, or a favorite toy break. But common sense tells us that whether it’s inborn or the product of cultural upbringing, we men reveal less about how things affect us emotionally than women do.
I think it’s fair to say that most of my prostate patients approach imaging, biopsy, diagnosis and treatment in a calm, rational way. As we go over the results of imaging or pathology reports, I try to educate my patients about what’s going on in their prostates. On the surface, these seem to be very logical discussions.
But all the research points to deeper feelings underlying these discussions, as the implications sink in: I might have cancer. Will I die? Will I lose my sex life? Will I have to wear diapers? Will I lose time from work? I can’t tell my boss—whom can I tell? No matter how logical a man believes himself to be, a certain amount of fear or anxiety is inevitable. In addition, for many of my patients there are financial worries. Money is tight, debts exist, potential loss of work time is stressful, kids are in college…the list goes on.
As a doctor, I am committed not just to a person’s body, but also to his or her heart, mind, and spirit. When I have to deliver the news that a man has prostate cancer, there is more than just a medical problem to solve. There is also the impact that this news has on his feelings, relationships, and wallet. It’s important to me to take enough time with patients to listen to the the bigger picture: what’s going on in your life, and how are you taking this news? I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, I would want to be able to entrust my doctor with what matters most to me. I try to create that sense of trustworthiness for each of my patients, recognizing that not everyone needs the same degree of support. For those who do, I want them to know that each person matters to me, and I try to respond to what’s most important to them.
Prostate cancer is about the whole person. Tell me what’s going on. Perhaps together we can make the journey a little easier, and the load a little lighter.