Kris Tynan explains how specialist sessions for men with prostate cancer are giving valuable support to those going through the illness – and gives you an insight into how you can set up your own classes.
Up until a few years ago, prostate cancer (PCa) wasn’t something I knew much about. As one in eight men develops PCa in their lifetime, this makes me rare as the chances are high that your grandfather, father, uncle, nephew, brother or friend will make up those statistics.
According to Prostate Cancer UK, PCa mainly affects men over the age of 50 and the risk increases with age. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and, every 45 minutes, a man dies from prostate cancer, which equates to over 11,500 men every year. Currently, around 400,000 men are living with – and after – prostate cancer.
What changed my understanding and experience of the disease was fortunately not due to someone close to me being diagnosed and undergoing treatment, but the fact that back in 2018 my husband and I started an exercise class specifically for men with PCa, which we called Prost-FIT.
Having dived into everything we could find on the research behind the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ of appropriate exercise for this cohort (leading the way is Edith Cowan University, under the guidance of Prof Rob Newton) and upskilling ourselves on the clinical aspects, we put together a class that we believed would tick the boxes of providing safe, effective exercise, as well as a socialisation and relaxation aspect that we believe is equally important. With a few tweaks and refinements over time, the class has gone from strength to strength and, with the support of our national organisation Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ, the classes are rolling out around the country.
What have I learned as a result of developing Prost-FIT?
I have learned many things – but these are my top six:
- The treatment options for PCa are many and varied and choosing which route to take adds extra stress to an already stressful situation. The treatment combinations can change as well. For most men with PCa, this is a constantly changing landscape.
- Although this is a gross generalisation, men are often used to being the ‘tough guy’, the ‘rock of the family’, and are not always that good at showing their vulnerability and fear to those around them. They want to support/protect their loved ones and family before they meet their own needs.
- The physical side effects of treatment, particularly incontinence and hormone deprivation therapy (think menopause symptoms including hot flushes, weight gain, loss of libido), are a whole new and somewhat shocking experience to men with PCa. Women are used to things going on ‘down there’ thanks to menstruation, childbirth and menopause. Men are not. PCa threatens their masculinity big time.
Now for some positives:
- PCa cuts through all socio-economic and age boundaries. The shared experience these men are having or have had is extremely powerful.
- In the right environment, men will open up and provide valuable support to each other.
- We knew ball, sports and gym-type drills would go down well with the men, but were pleasantly surprised that they will embrace anything slightly left field that we throw at them, including dance, meditation, tai chi and brain games.
The nine elements that make up a Prost-FIT class are: resistance, balance, pelvic floor work, flexibility, co-ordination and agility, cognitive, time-out (relaxation) and the all-important socialisation. The tenth is, of course, the coffee afterwards.
The camaraderie and connection that develops is priceless and it is fair to say the class becomes a support group in its own right.
I’ll leave the last word to Danny, one of the men who attends our sessions: “I enjoy the Prost-FIT classes because they allow me to enhance my strength – physically and mentally – and, at the same time, meet new friends, develop camaraderie and feel a sense of belonging.”
If you are interested in setting up a similar type of class a good place to start is to complete the online course Prostate Cancer for Exercise Professionals, available through FitPro now.