11 Harmful Things Cancer Survivors Hear

11 Harmful Things Cancer Survivors Hear

Living & Loving with Prostate Cancer

Coping with prostate cancer and the quality-of-life issues we face after treatment is difficult, to say the least. The comments we hear from our friends, family, and healthcare professionals have a positive or negative impact on the way we cope with cancer survivorship.

Following are six distressful comments men with prostate cancer hear frequently:

1. My (father, uncle, cousin, etc.) had the exact same cancer and he (recovered or died). What happened to someone else is irrelevant to a cancer patient, at best. It’s downright annoying.

2. You’re lucky you have the “good cancer.” It’s as unlikely as hell freezing over as it is thinking anyone diagnosed with cancer feels lucky.

3. You look great! How someone looks bears little resemblance to how someone with cancer feels.

4. If you try this (insert miracle cure), I’m sure you’ll be cured. Unless you have earned your medical degree, most folks coping with cancer are not interested in hearing about your thoughts on a “miracle cure.”

5. If you had (lost weight or eaten less dairy, sugar, red meat, etc.), you wouldn’t have cancer. Blaming the behavior of the person with cancer may ease your fears about developing cancer. It’s not in the least bit helpful to someone who has cancer.

6. Double nerve-sparing surgery will preserve your erectile functioning. According to a study titled, “Sexual Dysfunction after Radical Prostatectomy,” published in the journal Reviews in Urology, “The recovery of erectile function is agonizingly slow, requiring as long as 18 to 24 months. … Patients again assume that bilateral nerve sparing is synonymous with preservation of potency, not realizing that few men experience potency that is as good postoperatively as it was preoperatively. …”

As men diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s important to develop realistic expectations regarding the quality-of-life issues you’ll experience after treatment.

It also is important not to hold grudges against friends and family who say things that hurt rather than help us cope with cancer. Most hurtful comments come from a misguided notion of helping or ignorance, rather than an intention to cause harm.

In addition to what we hear from others, how we speak to ourselves impacts our level of stress and distress. A major source of distress comes from a fear of reoccurrence.

Following are five unhealthy ways men talk to themselves about prostate cancer:

7. Constantly worrying that cancer will return. This fear is referred to as recurrence anxiety. Many folks with cancer live with a joy-killing fear that their cancer will return. Learning to cope with the possibility of a recurrence may require outside help from a support group or professional.

8. I’m no longer a man. Treating prostate cancer can temporarily or permanently affect erectile functioning. I never knew my sense of being a man was linked to my ability to maintain an erection until I lost my ability to maintain an erection. Men face two challenging tasks. The first involves discovering ways to enjoy sexuality that isn’t dependent on an erection. The second involves redefining your definition of manhood. Men unable to successfully meet these two challenges suffer a devastating loss of self-esteem. They frequently struggle with depression.

9. My partner would be better off without me. Men who experience depression due to their loss of manhood believe their partner deserves a “whole man.”

10. At least I’m alive. If that sentiment increases your gratitude for being alive, it’s a healthy attitude. If the sentiment leads you to a place of passivity or helplessness, it’s causing great harm.

11. I must give up on dating or entering into a relationship. These men believe their inability to attain an erection has totally destroyed their value, so they impose a lifetime sentence of loneliness by withdrawing themselves from dating or seeking a relationship.

Once we develop a negative narrative about ourselves or the way we think others see us, our self-esteem and/or guiding philosophy of life is set in stone.

Without intervention or a purposeful challenge of our negative belief system, we say and do things that fulfill that system.

Today, make a list of the negative things you say and believe about yourself and your identity as a cancer survivor.

I invite you to challenge each and every one of those beliefs with the following statements:

•I’m fighting a war against cancer.

•Despite my fears, I’ve braved testing, treatment, and lifelong consequences.

•My lifelong quality-of-life issues are battle scars I’ve sustained fighting this war.

•It takes bravery and courage to fight the war against cancer.

•I’ve learned important and valuable life lessons about living and dying since my diagnosis.

•I will wisely use my time now that I’m a cancer survivor.

Add a few of your own guiding principles that challenge negative thinking.

Do you notice anything change as you actively challenge your negative thoughts and beliefs?


Note: Prostate Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Prostate Cancer News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to prostate cancer.


  1. Phillip Salvador says:

    Hi Rick,

    This is my second comment to you after reading now your posts on penile implants and diapers. I really appreciate your direct and informative advice on dealing with these unpleasant aspects of prostrate cancer treatment. I appreciate your shame-busting, ignorance-removing and dignity-promoting attitude, and your desire to pass it on to the rest of us.

    Phil Salvador

    Your comment made my day. Thank you!

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