Mind Your Language

“Hormone treatment for prostate cancer. This is chemical castration…”

I have recently been made aware that some men going on to hormone treatment for prostate cancer are being told that they are being chemically castrated. This might be technically true in so far as the treatment damps down sexual urges by reducing or blocking androgen production, or blocking the action of androgen throughout the body.

However, the effect is reversible, disappearing once treatment ceases (though this recovery can take a long time). Or at least the physiological effect can be reversed but what if psychological damage has occurred? What if there is a loss of self-belief? If, having been told that your sex life is over, you no longer believe that your partner will want you? And all this on top of your family telling you not to do the DIY or gardening and your body rebelling by losing hair and muscle and by gaining man-boobs and a fat stomach. Don’t even mention the hot sweats, tearfulness and fatigue.

Almost every man I work with in my Can Ability prostate cancer lifestyle and survivorship programmes describes feeling “half a man” or “dead from the waist down”. They feel emasculated physically and emotionally and are understandably knocked sideways when told that they are now chemically castrated.

How can we combat this? By promoting positive language and attitude and providing practical lifelines. In my work I listen, observe, hold space and provide information. I offer hope through teaching pelvic floor exercises and progressing to core work, strength, balance, flexibility and stamina. I encourage men to share their goals, report to one another on their progress (mistakes and successes), and to learn how to speak more openly to family and friends. These practical lifelines act as catalysts for future health and wellbeing, helping men to build resilience, confidence and hope.

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