New program gets prostate cancer patients connected

Wednesday 7 April, 2010

Men who find it tough to openly discuss their prostate cancer experience are being urged to make use of new prostate cancer phone support groups delivered by Cancer Council Victoria in partnership with MensLine Australia. The program is funded by beyondblue: the national depression initiative and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

Callers are grouped according to their individual needs, with separate groups for those with advanced prostate cancer, carers and younger men diagnosed with the disease. The groups are co-facilitated by a professional MensLine Australia counselor with training and experience in dealing with men's issues as well as an experienced cancer health professional.

Cancer Council Support Officer Robyn Metcalfe said that the easy and confidential nature of the groups appeals to many who need somebody to talk to.

"Some people find it difficult to talk about problems in a face-to-face setting and others are unable to travel to groups, so this service gives participants the flexibility to join in from work or home," she said.

"There was a gap in service. If you weren't willing or able to travel to a group then you were likely to miss out."

The program provides an outlet for those who otherwise would not be willing to discuss the way cancer impacts their lives. Prostate cancer survivor Paul Bordonaro said that speaking with other men was crucial in helping him understand the potentially overwhelming diagnosis.

"I was speaking to men who were able to relate their personal decisions, and were also able to tell me exactly why they chose the path they chose," he said.

Associate Professor Michael Jefford, Clinical Consultant for Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Information and Support Service said results from recent research highlighted the need for this service.

"People face a range of difficult feelings and cancer treatment decisions. We know from research how helpful it is to talk with someone who has been through a similar experience," he said.

Research shows that men with prostate cancer are nearly twice as likely to develop depression as men in the general community. Partners of men with prostate cancer are also more at risk of developing depression than the general public. Men with prostate cancer and their partners are also at greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

All groups are professionally facilitated, meeting weekly for around an hour over a period of 6 weeks. All information shared remains confidential. Teleconference discussions cost a standard local call.

For more information visit email csg@cancervic.org.au or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

About prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (apart from common skin cancers). In 2007 alone, 4680 men in Victoria were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

It's estimated that there are over 61,000 Australian men currently living who have had a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and it is the second-leading cause of cancer death in Australian men after lung cancer.

The exact causes of prostate cancer are not known. However, the chance of getting prostate cancer increases as you get older; more than half of all new prostate cancers affect men over the age of 70. Also, your risk of prostate cancer is higher if your father or a brother had prostate cancer, especially at an early age.

About our support groups

Cancer Council Victoria facilitates over 160 face-to-face cancer support groups across the state to help Victorians cope with a cancer diagnosis. Groups follow a self-help model and are facilitated by volunteers.

Research has shown that it is helpful for cancer patients to talk with someone who has been through a similar experience, and such conversations have proven social and emotional benefits.

Cancer Council Victoria's phone support groups offer a greater level of convenience, cost-effectiveness and accessibility than many traditional support services. They are delivered through the Cancer Information and Support Service.

Carers of those fighting cancer are often overlooked in support services, even though they can struggle with managing health care, role changes and financial burdens.

Callers are separated into groups according to their particular needs. There are groups for those with advanced cancer, cancer survivors, young adults, carers, those with head and neck cancer, as well as a group for those with a genetic predisposition to cancer.

In addition to teleconference based support groups, Cancer Council Victoria also facilitates internet support groups to help connect cancer patients with others going through similar experiences.

Benefits of telephone groups include:

  • Exploring alternative coping strategies in a solution-focussed way
  • Resilience building
  • Raising awareness about potential barriers to progress, such as anxiety and depression
  • Increasing capacity for self-advocacy
  • Information sharing and peer support therefore reducing perception of isolation
  • Increasing social support.

Paul Bordonaro's Story

Paul Bordonaro was stuck in a board meeting when the call came through with the results of his biopsy. He had prostate cancer. For Mr Bordonaro, this shattering news also meant he had work to do.

"I'm one of those people who wanted to know all my options, I wanted to understand the disease and everything about it," he said. "I have 3 children and the thought of losing my life to cancer was just unbelievable."

Like thousands of men in the same situation, trying to make the best decision possible, Mr Bordonaro found himself in the waiting room of yet another specialist. Sitting there, he noticed a poster for a peer support program run by Cancer Council Victoria.

"The best move I could have made," he said. "I was speaking to men who were able to relate their personal decisions, and were also able to tell me exactly why they chose the path they chose - whether it be surgery or other options."

The number of treatment options available to prostate cancer patients can be a double edged-sword, Mr Bordonaro said. "It could have been quite bewildering to work through all the avenues available, so to hear honest and direct advice from men who have made the same decision I had to make was fantastic."

Mr Bordonaro said that discussing treatment options and other issues such as sexual dysfunction with other men could be difficult, especially if the problems are placing strain upon a relationship. "Talking to men about prostate cancer can be like pulling teeth, particularly face-to-face. The confidential nature of this service is fantastic."

Having attended many group meetings, Mr Bordonaro ultimately realised that he preferred the anonymity of phone conversations.

"I found that men tend to shy away from frank discussion when we're confronted with something serious like this. On the phone the conversation remains a lot more open and positive."

The helpline will address a gap that exists for structured counselling of men through the entire process of prostate treatment, Mr Bordonaro said. "Women are such fantastic communicators, but the male of the species unfortunately doesn't share that trait," he said. "Even if I had prostate cancer in my family history, I wouldn't have known about it because in the past it just wasn't ever discussed."

The service also allows carers and family members of men fighting cancer to share experiences and coping strategies with each other.

"Just the fact that I could hand my wife the phone and say ‘Here are 5 other wives who are going through exactly what you're going through,' makes this a fantastic initiative," Mr Bordonaro said. "She had to decide how proactive her role was going to be in my treatment, and that can be a difficult decision to make on your own."

Now, over 4 years after his treatment, Paul Bordonaro is encouraging men to open up and share what they are going through with men in similar circumstances.

"The Cancer Council's phone support groups are anonymous and available for the cost of a local call. There is just no reason not to call."

Updated: 07 Apr, 2010