When Your Husband Has Prostate Cancer

By on February 5, 2019
Prostate Cancer

Women whose husbands receive a prostate cancer diagnosis are often the ones researching treatments, advising their husbands, and offering emotional support throughout treatment.

Unlike wives of husbands who may be fighting other diseases, couples confronting prostate cancer face the dilemma of potentially losing their sexually intimacy. Some treatments may require him to wear an adult diaper for the rest of his life.  

Sharie, Gail and Nancy (their last names omitted for anonymity) live very different lives, but each became caregivers and experts in prostate cancer therapies when their husbands received the diagnosis. They wanted to share their stories for women whose partners also face this prevalent disease.

Sharie

Sharie, a Colorado bank employee, researched information about the disease she created a spreadsheet to track treatments available to her husband Les of 27 years, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 at 56 years old.

Besides learning about levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) and Gleason scores that are used to assess the severity of prostate cancer, Sharie and Les were concerned about the side effects of standard treatments.

The couple ruled out active surveillance, or “watchful waiting,” to monitor the progress of the prostate cancer, because of her husband’s rising PSA levels and a biopsy revealing a tumor. They also decided against radiation, cryotherapy, and radical prostatectomy because of potential side effects.

Instead, they opted for high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), in which a urologist directs ultrasound waves at precise points in the prostate to destroy only the diseased tissue. Since the FDA cleared HIFU in 2015, urologists in the U.S. are increasingly offering it to their patients who qualify. HIFU has been successfully used on more than 50,000 men internationally.

The risk of impotence and incontinence are greatly reduced for HIFU patients. Sharie reports that Les was sexually active shortly after treatment and back at work within three weeks.

Nancy

When Nancy’s husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 at 63, options such as HIFU were unavailable. Nancy, like Sharie, did extensive research. She and her spouse considered radiation and radioactive seed implants (brachytherapy), but the urologist recommended radical prostatectomy. The biopsy showed the cancer to be a very high grade despite a somewhat low Gleason score.

While the surgeon believed the right decision was made, the recovery process was not easy. Nancy’s husband did not return to work for three months and was catheterized for weeks. Although, incontinence eventually diminished, he still manages it today and must avoid heavy lifting.

Nancy’s husband was also affected by erectile dysfunction. The erectile enhancing drug Viagra proved little help.

“His side effects were difficult for both of us,” Nancy says. “We had guilt. I felt I shouldn’t think about my own desire and enjoyment.”

“Our lives changed,” she said. “We’ve since read about new developments and now surgery is unnecessary in some cases. But I’m grateful for the years my husband has been cancer free and our great relationship.”

Gail

Gail, an HR consultant in Silicon Valley, whose husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his early 70s had to respect wishes of her partner.  She researched various treatments, including experimental ones, which her husband rejected. “It is easy to get frustrated and angry because you can see things more clearly than the person dealing with the cancer. But you have to let them make their own decisions.”

Gail’s husband opted for radiation and experienced both incontinence and impotence. Although his prostate cancer did not metastasize, his PSA levels kept increasing. Eventually he enrolled in a clinical trial, which failed and his enlarged prostate put pressure on his bladder.  He was forced to wear a catheter for the remainder of his life.  Ultimately, he died of kidney failure due to complications of his prostate cancer. 

Looking back, Gail says one thing she wished she’d done would have been to talk to other women whose spouses had gone through the prostate cancer journey.

When Nancy’s and Gail’s husbands went through their treatments, HIFU focal therapy was not available.  These women agree, it’s important to research available treatments and weigh each option before making a choice.

 

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One Comment

  1. Cindi

    February 5, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing the women’s experience in the prostate cancer treatment journey.

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When Your Husband Has Prostate Cancer