What were your fears and challenges after conventional prostate cancer treatment? Did you receive any post treatment support from your cancer team? Did the Doctor spare your prostate erection nerves?

What type of treatment did you received from your Doctor? Did you even understand the treatment regime before you accepted the treatment? Were you told about the stage of your prostate cancer and the treatments available based on it?  Were you given information on how to deal with the side effect of these treatments?

Did you opt for Herbal or Alternative Medicine instead of mainstream medicine?  What were you experiences on these modalities? How did it go is my question to you today?

Let’s go now! Prostate cancer is a test of Manhood! “I’m no longer a man. I’m all dried up,” said his late Dad. “You are less of a man,” concluded. Later found comfort in the lyrics of a popular song: “I’m just a man who does the best he can”.

This made me to focus one chapter of my doctoral thesis on Manhood for life –Ghanaian men everyday life with prostate cancer. I realized that sexuality and ideas about masculinity are closely connected in Ghanaian men and about 80-90% of Ghanaian men diagnosed with prostate cancer have problem with their sex life. Few women have knowledge about the side effect of prostate cancer treatment on the men sex life! Only men who married health workers such as nurses have knowledge about the side effect of prostate cancer treatment.

Too much spotlight on impotence

My research is based on in-depth interviews with 5 men aged 58–83 and 3 spouses aged 52–68. The spouses were not married to any of the 5 men in the study. This minimised the danger of revealing sensitive information, which allowed the women to speak freely.

Several of the men felt that the health system focused a little too much on impotence as a possible side effect. In the beginning they had enough to deal with just digesting the fact that they had cancer, a frightening and potentially terminal disease.

They are given advice about what they can do, about Viagra, about sex with their partners. It’s fine to get information about this, but the person who is sick should not feel pressured. There should not be too much focus on getting an erection.

In general, the older men were able to accept that their sex lives had changed and that it was better to extend their lives with treatment than to have a functioning penis. However, one of the younger men broke up with his girlfriend after he became impotent.

Sexuality was more important for the youngest men in my sample, those around 60 years old. Impotence was a huge problem for them.

 

Fat, tired and unconcerned

The men i interviewed were treated with hormones, not to cure the disease but to extend their lives. The hormones decrease the production of testosterone, which can cause major side effects.

 

In this case, you may become tired, gain weight, and lose initiative. It’s a little like women going through menopause.

 

For the informants, being a man had to do with physical activity and having a strong body, among other things. While on hormones, they had to adjust the physical aspects of their lives.

 

One of the men used to be an active outdoorsman and mountain climber. Now he picks berries instead, and is very satisfied with that.

 

“They manage to live good lives with prostate cancer and the side effects, but it has an impact on how they live. They live in a more cautious, thoughtful way.

 

Incontinence

Many of the men also suffer from incontinence. While several research studies have explored the topic of impotence, little research has been conducted on men who are incontinent and need to wear nappies.

 

The men I interviewed used nappies for incontinence. They have become babies in their homes

 

They wished they are not using the nappies

The women I interviewed, however, said that their spouses used nappies. They told me about difficult situations in the men’s daily lives with nappies and that they had to joke about it to lessen its sting.

 

I did this research on the daily life of men with prostate cancer and what happens between spouses in such situations in Ghana.

 

The men talked mainly with their wives about the disease, except for one man who had not told his wife.

 

They could also talk to their sons while doing something together, but it was difficult to talk to their daughters. Having to say “dad is sick” had an impact on how they thought about themselves as fathers.

 

The men also felt that it is easier for women to open up than for men. Several of the wives said they had to push their husbands into telling them how they were doing.

 

The men usually said that there was not much to tell, but I found them to be very open and talkative with me during the interviews.

 

“One man said that men can be cool on the outside, but a raging storm on the inside. These are courageous men who are working hard to cope with their illness. But there are issues there that they may not always get to talk about and express, which the health system does not take notice of.” We don’t have sexual clinics in Ghana and doctors don’t pay attention to this. They don’t also visit their patient. One patient I paid a visit was very grateful and was surprised to see his doctor visiting him to discuss the way forward. Men don’t cry but now we are crying!

 

Reliant on their spouses

The men said that their wives were their most important source of support. The wives said that their husbands had become dependent on them.

 

Both the men and the spouses were concerned about sparing each other, but over time the women became tired of all the focus on their husband’s cancer. They lost themselves in the man’s illness.

 

It was also important for the women not to reveal sensitive information about their husbands. The spouses protected their husbands, but they found it difficult to be the only one who knew about the disease. Often people knew that the man was sick, but not what kind of illness it was.

 

Tricky sex life

With regard to the side effects of the men’s illness, the spouses were often stoic at the beginning of the interviews. Everything was fine; nothing to talk about.

 

After awhile it became clear that some of them thought it was sad that their sex life had ended earlier than anticipated.

 

Some of the men said doctor please tells my wife that it is not my doing but the side effect of prostate cancer treatments so she should have patience.

 

One patient, when I started telling him about the side effect of prostate cancer treatment immediately called the wife to come and listen so that he should be free.

 

“A woman who said in the interview that it was fine to have less sex called back the next day and said ‘what I said wasn’t true, it’s awful’. It does something to the relationship. By the same token, they would not tell this to their husbands. It was important for them to protect their husbands’ masculinity.”

 

However, it was not only problematic to be married to a man with prostate cancer. Some of the women found that the disease had brought them closer together.

 

Greater interest

In my researched interviews, there was little openness about the disease in the public sphere. This has changed dramatically since the establishment of Men’s Health Foundation Ghana office in Dodowa, Akoto House.

 

The men think it’s important that more facts and knowledge about the disease is brought to light,

 

There is something about where the disease is located that leads to taboo and stigma. It must be given its rightful place without making these men and their sexuality an object of pity.”

Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu is a research Professor of Prostate Cancer and Holistic Medicine at Da Vinci College of Holistic Medicine, Larnaca city, Cyprus and President of Men’s Health Foundation Ghana.