When you’ve just been diagnosed with testicular cancer, your first thought is usually about your treatment: what’s it going to take to beat this thing? But testicular cancer affects more than your physical health. It can also take a toll on your mental and emotional health.
It’s important to recognize the impact cancer can have on wellbeing, know what signs to watch for, and learn what you can do about it.
Put simply, testicular cancer increases the risk of mental health issues. For example:
People with testicular cancer are more likely to experience high levels of stress.
1 in 5 will experience anxiety.
1 in 10 guys with testicular cancer will experience depression.
1 in 3 express significant fear that the cancer will come back.
It's not just you.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you’re not alone.
A 2021 Canadian study found that people who’ve had testicular cancer are more likely to seek help with their mental health than those who haven’t had it, sometimes a decade or more after treatment. In most cases, people turn to their doctor (a primary care doc or general practitioner) for help.
If you’re dealing with anxiety, depression or anything stopping you from living the fullest life possible, don’t assume it will go away on its own. The time to ask for help is now.
Testicular cancer can affect mental health and emotional wellbeing in a number of ways. While your experience may be different than someone else’s, here’s a look at some of the common impacts.
You may feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster during your testicular cancer diagnosis and treatment. In fact, the unwanted ride may continue for some time after treatment, too. As Cancer Research UK notes, “One day you might feel positive and able to cope, but the next day feel the exact opposite.”
This is entirely normal. Some of the emotions you may feel are:
Confusion: simply wrapping your head around the different types of testicular cancer or treatments available can be overwhelming.
Anger: you may quite understandably feel it’s unfair that you have to go through this. That frustration can boil up sometimes in unexpected ways.
Anxiety and fear: you may be worried about treatment side effects, chances of recovery or possible changes to your life after cancer. You may also worry about the cancer returning.
It’s not unusual to experience issues with your self-esteem or body image after an orchiectomy (that is, surgery to remove one or both testicles). Some guys find that getting a testicular prosthesis after surgery helps with their self-image, while others adapt without getting one.
You may also experience changes to your sex life after treatment, such as a diminished sex drive or difficulty maintaining an erection. Concerns about your ability to father children also contribute to anxiety or depression for some people.
If any of these are affecting your confidence or your relationship, be open with your partner about what’s going on. Your doctor may also be able to suggest treatments that can help.
Fatigue can be physical, mental, emotional or all of the above. Some of the main treatments for testicular cancer — especially chemotherapy and radiation — can leave you feeling pretty drained. This is normal. Try not to demand as much of yourself while you’re going through treatment. Give yourself plenty of time to rest and recover, if you can.
If your fatigue is so overwhelming that it starts to disrupt everyday life, talk to your doctor.
Some guys find it hard getting back to normal after testicular cancer. You may have grown accustomed to being surrounded by a strong support network, including family, friends and your cancer care team — in which case you may feel your anxiety creep upward as you have less contact with them. Or you might be itching to reclaim your independence, in which case you may need to reset expectations with loved ones who’ve gotten used to caring for you at every turn.
If you take time off from work or school while getting treatment, don’t be surprised if your re-entry is a little bumpy. Some of your colleagues or classmates may treat you differently, often because they’re not sure how to talk to you about your cancer (or whether they should bring it up at all). It’s not unusual to feel self-conscious or insecure as you get back up to speed.
Anyone can be emotionally impacted by testicular cancer, but some people may be more likely to experience mental health impacts than others. Here are some things that have been related to poorer emotional wellbeing.
Age/being younger: Younger guys may be particularly impacted by testicular cancer. This is because the diagnosis and treatment can feel like a massive disruption at what is commonly seen as a ‘vital, vibrant time of life.’
Relationship status: A partner can offer much-needed support, as well as a boost to your emotional wellbeing. Single guys with testicular cancer can experience distress, depression and fear of the cancer coming back — especially if they have less support or if they’re worried about how the cancer might impact future relationships.
Employment status: If you’re going through testicular cancer while out of a job or in a financial crunch, it can have an impact on your emotional wellbeing.
Body image and sexual performance: Testicular cancer can impact a person’s confidence, body image, their sense of masculinity and sexual performance. The pressure to meet certain masculine sexual stereotypes can contribute to depression, while difficulties with sexual performance can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
Coping methods: People cope with hardship in different ways — but some coping methods are better than others. A passive coping style (trying to avoid problems or getting stuck in a helpless or hopeless mindset) can have a negative effect on emotional wellbeing. Active, problem-solving coping is a much better alternative.
If you’re wrestling with anger, stress, worry, anxiety or depression, don’t wait to ask for help. And don’t let your mental health or your emotional wellbeing take a backseat to your physical health. They’re all important.
Here are a few things you can do to take care of your emotional wellbeing:
Find a counselor. Some guys find it helpful to talk with a counselor while going through (or recovering from) testicular cancer. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor. They may be able to refer you to someone who can help. Some treatment centers offer counseling support alongside your physical care.
Talk to someone who has had testicular cancer. Just keep in mind they’re not a substitute for a licensed counselor or your medical care team.
Join a support group. Many hospitals offer support groups for people with specific types of cancer. Check with your healthcare provider to see what options are available for you.
Find trusted help online. If there aren’t any in-person support groups available in your area, there are some options for getting reliable, trusted care online, such as the Cancer Survivors Network.
When you have testicular cancer, it’s easy to just focus on your physical recovery. Don’t forget that your mental health and emotional wellbeing matter too. If you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed, there is help available.