An open letter to all prostate cancer treatment professionals for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

After a diagnosis of prostate cancer, up to 40% of men will experience poorer quality of life and face a heightened suicide risk. Professor Suzanne Chambers AO, one of the world’s foremost experts on the psychology of cancer, has written a powerful mental health resource in the form of a self-help book that works to address this.

Entitled Facing the Tiger, it incorporates evidence-based science and the lived experiences of prostate cancer survivors to achieve better survivorship outcomes through better mental health. It helps patients: manage stress and anxiety, improve decision-making, understand their unique treatment journey, access appropriate support, and increase the effectiveness of communication with their health care team.

However, research tells us that simply asking (or telling) men with prostate cancer to buy a copy of Facing the Tiger isn’t actually the best way to help them. Older men are often reluctant to seek help for, or even recognise, their mental health issues.

Yet, Suzanne’s book is the most sought-after patient resource in those prostate clinics where copies are made available to specialist nursing staff to provide to patients. For example, Kath, a specialist prostate cancer nurse working in a large regional hospital, found the book so useful to her patients that she recently ran out of supplied copies and had to raise funds to get more.

It seems then that the best way for Suzanne’s work to make the most difference is by having urologists, specialist prostate cancer nurses, urology nurses, oncology nurses, GPs and other appropriate health professionals disseminate the book to patients rather than asking men to buy their own copy.

It is hoped then that the most recent initiative by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand to send a book to over 600 urologists along with a letter urging them to use it with patients might encourage some investment from urological practices. Such private health investment has already been taken by Mens Health Downunder, an affiliate of the Canberra-based Life Pharmacy Group, who sent out 100 free copies to support the men in their care.

Making the case for this investment by medical practices, a website has been established for health professionals [www.facing-the-tiger.com] which focuses on the how and why of the modern cancer treatment survivorship approach. It calls for a high care focus on the wider psychosocial impacts of cancer as well as medical intervention. The website features research and resources as well as information on the Australian developed best-practice guidelines for psychosocial care for men with prostate cancer.

As a trained psychologist of an age where a PSA test is a regular part of my medical check-ups, it’s not surprising that I find it so important to publish and promote Facing the Tiger as the powerful tool for better mental health that it is. I have worked with Suzanne Chambers for some years now and remain in awe of her energy and commitment to men’s health and her amazing talent for communicating in language that men understand. Her book is so much more than just something to suggest to men and their partners that they “might find helpful”. It is a mental health intervention that works. I would urge you to look seriously at incorporating the book into your work with prostate cancer patients and help create a step-change in prostate cancer care.

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