Men are from Mars…


More than 18,000 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year – 4,300 will die from it.

“When it comes to health, men really are from Mars,” says Dr. Ross Gray. And he should know, having just completed a new book, Prostate Tales, Men’s Experiences with Prostate Cancer which documents the many interviews Gray and his colleagues conducted across the country to find out how men cope with the disease.

The Co-Director of the Psycho-social Behavioural Research Unit of the Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre has been making presentations to health-care professionals across the country about the very diverse reactions men have to this cancer diagnosis.

“The experiences of men with prostate cancer tend to stay in the shadows and I wanted to make sure these stories were told,” said Gray.

Based on interviews conducted by Gray and his colleagues, Prostate Tales vividly portrays men with prostate cancer, drawing on extensive research interviews and using story-telling and drama to convey men’s crises, struggles, sorrows, challenges and triumphs in dealing with prostate cancer.

The reader meets 15 middle-aged and elderly men – white, black, married, single, gay, straight – with prostate cancer. The men joke with friends, take their grandchildren fishing and pick up the groceries while sorting their way through “the information maze” and enduring the side effects of treatment. This is not a sentimental book, and the everyday realities of fear, depression, and confusion are presented in a straightforward manner.

How do men cope with this diagnosis? “Men are socialized to perceive seeking help as incompatible with self-reliance, so ill men find themselves in a psychological bind,” says Gray. They tend to downplay the impact of their illness and minimize it as a way of coping. There are intense emotions triggered by the disease and its treatments.

The stories, as told by Gray, honour the courage, humour and strength of individual men while not hiding from everyday realities like fear, depression and confusion.

The book is written for patients, health-care professionals, family members, and anyone who wants to better understand the dilemmas facing men with prostate cancer.

Prostate Tales is a departure from traditional research reports and offers an innovative way of relaying important information for education and communicating research findings.

Copies of the book are available through many Canadian bookstores, or can be ordered from or (for $22.95).

Dr. Ross Gray is co-director of the Psycho-social Behavioural Research Unit of the Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre. His research focuses on narrative and arts-influenced methods, quality of life assessment, health services utilization and evaluation, development and testing of psychosocial and educational interventions, study of information dissemination strategies, and qualitative descriptions of patients’ experiences. He has also written dramatic plays on the subject of breast cancer.

8 Myths About Men’s Experiences with Prostate Cancer

1. Prostate cancer is a blip in the highway of life.

Not true for most of the men I’ve known. They generally like to minimize the impact of cancer when talking with other people, but are deeply affected by prostate cancer and the side effects of treatment.

2. Men don’t know how to support other men.

While it’s true that most men look primarily to a woman, usually their spouse, for support during illness, prostate cancer support groups have sprung up across North America and men are very much engaged in helping each other.

3. Men deal with cancer in predictable ways.

There’s a lot of variety among men in how they face the diagnosis of prostate cancer. For example, some keep it hidden, while others broadcast it to the world. Some are proactive in seeking solutions for the sexual and/or urinary problems that can occur, while others simply live with these problems.

4. There are straightforward solutions to the sexual problems caused by prostate cancer and its treatment.

Although devices and medications help many men with prostate cancer to have an active sex life, any particular device or medication is more likely not to work than to work. And if it works, it is likely to work only some of the time, or to achieve only partial success.

5. Prostate cancer patients have a harder time coping than their spouses.

Women are usually as distressed, or more distressed, than their husbands about the prostate cancer experience. They walk a tightrope in trying to stay positive and support their men, while at the same time not dismissing the traumatic impact of cancer on their lives.

6. Prostate cancer is not much of an issue for gay men.

Just because there are no studies that discuss prostate cancer for gay men, doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue. It is! And it brings unique challenges for these men.

7. Impotence is what men fear most about prostate cancer treatment.

Men we talked to before they had treatment for prostate cancer were much more frightened about the possibilities of long-term urinary incontinence than of sexual problems. Although a fairly small minority of men have such problems with incontinence, those who do have a hell of a time.

8. There isn’t enough factual information about prostate cancer for men.

In fact, there’s a ton of information available, through books and over the Internet. The difficult trick is to figure out which pieces apply to your particular situation. Most men wish they had more help sorting this out. In contrast to medical facts, there is very little experiential information available, about what disease and treatment is actually like for men. And too much of what is available is sugarcoated, intending to encourage but at the expense of truth.