By Jeannie and Pratap Mehta

Looking back after ten years on how prostate cancer affected our marriage, the big picture emerges. We have been together nearly 60 years, and the cancer, treatment and recovery were challenges for each of us individually, as a couple and in our wider relationships.

Here are some of our memories of how prostate cancer knocked us off our loving path and how we got back on track. The bonsai trees in our backyard are a metaphor for our lives interrupted, and how we adapted to and accommodated what life presents to us, as best we can.

Jeannie writes – how prostate cancer affected me and our marriage

Last time I wrote “cancer can change a sensitive and loving man through fear and pride, into a selfish version of himself,” and Mish asked how we recovered from that. How did Pratap return to his usual sensitive and loving nature after his 2010 radical prostatectomy? I am grasping at remembered scenes and situations from ten years ago now.

He did not lose his basic loving sensitivity really, but he was obviously very stressed by the operation. What I felt was selfish was his decision not to share the news of having prostate cancer.

I was expected and wanted to support Pratap but he didn’t realise that I needed some emotional support too. Not sharing this news meant somehow I felt less of a friend towards my close friends, one of whom herself was dealing with ovarian cancer treatment options.

Dancer pose: I am still dancing , even at seventy seven

Self care as a partner

Attending to my own mental health at that time, I found great help in a book by Albert Ellis PhD, an American psychologist and psychotherapist. His book A Guide to Rational Living was recommended to me by a counsellor when I was buckling under the burden of Pratap’s cancer and other family issues. I recommend it! I still go back and consult it from time to time.

Throughout this difficult time, I kept a journal to write down all the emotional rubbish I was dealing with at the time. That helped enormously. So I would definitely encourage anyone going through a trauma like this to to keep a journal.

In the midst, as a thread through this, were yoga and meditation. These provided for me a sanctuary of peace, rest and grounding. The maelstrom of life was intense at that time. Without yoga and meditation, I would have buckled.

Empathy for men facing cancer, incontinence, ED and death

Prostate cancer affects marriage. It was a difficult time for me but even more so for Pratap. I understood why he wanted to keep it all secret then. It seemed he was struggling with the whole notion of being male questioned, if he had erectile dysfunction (ED) and the social ignominy of incontinence.

The question of facing death also hovered. A close friend and neighbour, Peter, committed suicide after his diagnosis as he feared the pain and outcome. All these aspects fed in to the mix of emotional turmoil, under the radar, as it were.

What I honour about my husband’s journey

Although Pratap has always struggled with health anxiety, when faced with this massive challenge of cancer and this particular cancer, he coped with it well on the whole. I think his being an engineer led him to problem solve along the way and kept his mind better occupied.

A day or two after returning home, he was out, wearing the catheter under his trousers, to the Mall. He appeared quite confident and relaxed. I don’t know if I could have done that!

How our relationship helped

I think that it’s important to learn that at times like these, that the elastic of the huge love we have for one another needs to stretch a bit further to become more reflective for each other, to see the picture from the other’s viewpoint and experience.

Pratap has always really had that capacity. Even when we had babies, he would come home and deal with nappies which was no small feat. That was back when we had cloth nappies, and soaked the dirty nappies in a bucket with Napisan to sterilise them for reuse. Then they had to be loaded into the machine to be washed.

He was always hands-on and supportive, and shared house work things too, and we cooked together.

So you can see why I understood what had happened to him at this scary time we had. I knew that this wasn’t the real Pratap! This was an injured man who was frightened and in need of reassurance and understanding.

Over these ten years we have both grown emotionally with the help of counselling, for me. It seems to me that we have been tempered by life, as steel is. ‘The process has the effect of toughening by lessening brittleness and reducing internal stresses.

How prostate cancer affected relationship

Our Bonsai trees represent endurance, contentment, hope, trust, love and resilience

So I think the main thing which helped me sustain myself during this time has been developing more resilience.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. – Maya Angelou

Pratap writes: what I learned from our relationship and the cancer

When I said to Jeannie that I do not wish friends and wider family to know about my prostate cancer, I was in a state of shock. I kept thinking “why me?” At the time, Jeannie didn’t speak out about my request for secrecy.

When I had recovered from the trauma, and I realised what I had done, I felt very guilty. Because of Jeannie’s generous nature and love for me she could see that this was not the real me. This was a damaged, frightened me. Jeannie is non-judgemental, to a fault!

I think I have learned that I need to be less judgemental to see a wider picture and be kinder in my judgements! Can you teach an old dog new tricks? I hope so!