Part one
In support of the Dare to Flash a Stache campaign, the Winchester Press will take a closer look at the emotional, sexual, physical and mental health challenges couples face in the days before, during and after their battle with prostate cancer. To support the campaign, visit www.daretoflashastache.ca to register or donate.

WINCHESTER – No man ever imagines that his fate will rest in the hands of a silent killer.

Hollywood has proliferated the commonly held male myth that going out in a blaze of glory (or gunfire) is better than fading away, and that the functionality of your manhood determines your manliness.

Coming to grips with the reality that a positive prostate cancer diagnosis brings shatters that myth, and it is a major challenge for men and their most intimate relationships.

Cynthia Beales-Alcock’s husband, Ken, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2018. The news came as a complete shock for the couple.

They were new empty nesters, first-time grandparents and looking forward to the next phase of their lives when the disease was discovered shortly after Ken, a 22-year military veteran, celebrated his 50th birthday.

Despite the couple’s experience with the stark realities that come with active duty, the news was a total blindside.

Cynthia Beales-Alcock talked about the new reality facing couples after prostate cancer surgery. Schoch Photo

“Ken was deployed to Afghanistan twice so I remember all those difficult conversations, making sure I understood what he wanted for a funeral and all that. I do not remember the conversation that the test was positive that it was cancer,” Beales-Alcock said. “Cancer is so silent at the beginning. It’s a shock.”

The surgery for Ken was ultimately successful and the after-effects, including incontinence issues, were not a surprise. What proved to be most challenging was the loss of self-worth and confidence.

“It strikes at the essence at what some men like to think makes them a man. You’re taking that away from them,” she said.

Despite the surgery being performed using the da Vinci system, considered the standard today, Ken still suffered significant nerve damage. The resulting erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common physical side effect that pushed the couple into uncharted territory.

Many solutions were offered, and one, ideal for younger couples, was an injection of hormones directly into the penis. In this case, Beales-Alcock was trained to administer it herself.

“Your sex now becomes scheduled because we have to prep the needles. The serum, there’s only one drug store in Ottawa that has it so you have to order it 24 hours in advance,” she said.

Ken also experienced serious and painful side effects, including prolonged swelling and discoloration. Intimacy wasn’t intimate anymore.

“I’d leave the room and just start crying. He was doing that for me because he thinks I need to have this,” Beales-Alcock said. “Sexual intimacy is like the pebble in a pond. The ripples go out and affect everything else in your life. You start to shut down in other areas of intimacy. The communication and self-esteem takes a hit. You don’t go out as much, and the social life then takes a hit.”

Couples are left to navigate the turbulent waters of a new reality alone. There is little support offered other than a social worker.

“We need to bring back mental health assistance with this. Not just for the sufferer, but for the spouses as well. We’re out of our depth.”

The couple has managed to find a new normal through their own research, advice from other couples, and trial and error. At the heart of it all has been open and honest communication.

However, the darkness of the disease still lingers for Beales-Alcock and her husband.

“We try to embrace more and take joy in the simple things, but it’s a struggle because there are still times when you sit back and say, ‘is it done?’ I guess it takes a while to get away from waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said.