By Julie Michaud
April 16, 2012
After I heard the dreaded words, “it is cancer,” there was one topic that I found it very difficult to get a lot of information on. It was not the topic of treatments, options, or support. It was also a topic that I expected to occupy my thoughts. I had just found out the large tumour in my body was cancer, it was in my lymphnodes, it may be spreading as I sat there waiting. But I couldn’t shake a little thought bubble: What about sex?
I had been married to my husband for two years. We had been getting ready to plan our son’s first birthday. We were fresh into our new experiences, but far from the “honeymoon” aspect of our relationship. Let’s face it; sex was a part of our life.
There I was talking to surgeons to discuss removing my right breast. Chemotherapy would be poisoning the cells of my body trying to kill off the cancerous cells and trying to stop them from spreading any further. Would I even want to consider sex during these times?
The fact is, sex is a part of our nature, especially for young adults. It is part of the way we express our intimacy. I knew there were many, many more ways to express intimacy than the simple act of intercourse, but how would my diagnosis and treatments affect my libido?
One nurse was informed enough to tell us to expect excessive dryness due to the medications and chemo drugs. Another nurse tried with gusto and redundancy to express there are more ways than intercourse to express love and affection. Wow. I’m sure there are people out there that don’t care for their partner’s feelings when they get horny, but my husband actually respects my thoughts when we discuss our sexual encounters.
That was it; a finger wagging at him to “be good,” and the tip to invest in lube in case I feel frisky some day.
I imagine this is even harder to deal with if you are single, let alone ask for suggestions. Mentioning to your prospective partner that you have to get up early for your chemo treatment the next day might put a damper on the night’s festivities. Telling them that you have no breast under that bra can be a bit of a mood-killer. But, you can do it and get through it.
So did I want sex during my treatments? Of course! I had the desire for intimacy and wanted to share that with my husband. Did we go at it like jackrabbits? No. We had to deal with the cancer crap that kept rearing its ugly head. I started my treatments with six rounds of chemotherapy, and a couple days after chemo I would start to feel normal and was therefore able to start engaging in normal activity.
Hugging and caressing are great when you do not want to have intercourse and just want to share the feeling of being loved. Simply brushing someone’s hair back (or lovingly rubbing that now bald scalp—thank you very much, chemo), giving a foot rub, or even running to get the toss-your-cookies bucket can be ways to show you love the person in question.
Now, that being said, there are other things that can happen to you that are completely personal. Remember, everything varies from person to person. We’re all different, so if you start finding something has changed and you don’t like it, talk about it with your partner.
Talk about how you feel emotionally and physically. I don’t mean just whether you are in the mood, I’m talking about what you have going on in your head. Your partner cannot be responsive if they think you’re doing great because you are hiding your fears and personal limitations.
Talk about what has changed. What works great, and what doesn’t.
If you need it, find a third party like a therapist or social worker to talk about your concerns. Not everyone wants to talk about this stuff with his or her partner first. These people have degrees so they can help you.
If you find the positions are not working like they once did, purchase a book on positions, like the infamous Karma Sutra. Buy some new toys. If you don’t have toys already, now may be a great time to start looking at them seriously.
If you lose part of your body or start being covered in scars, it is up to you to accept the “new you.” There may be ways to help decrease the appearance of the reminders that we once had to endure toxic chemicals and surgeries, but there will be parts that you cannot erase. You need to look at the mirror and see you, not the treatments. That may take a long time. It’s okay if it takes you a long time to come to terms with your “new you,” we all heal on our own time.
Some of us feel scars deeper than others. For some, losing hair is passé, for others it is like splashing neon green paint on their face and standing under a black light. Deal with your scars as you need to. But face them. You are still you.
Some things may slowly return to normal. Some things may never return to the way they were. You are allowed to change your mind. You are unique. You are important.
The big five between the post “It is cancer” and pre “It is cancer” sexual worlds:
- Nerves are heavily affected by chemo. Do not be surprised if you find it frustratingly difficult to climax or impossible to even climax at all.
- Some positions that you once thoroughly enjoyed are no longer your cup of tea.
- Your libido may now be a faulty light switch. You’ll be on one second, the next you’re off…then on…then off… Make sure to fully vocalize these issues with your partner.
- If you are female, I recommend you invest in gel lubricants. They tend to stick around longer and are easier to deal with in a moment of passion.
- Having parts of your appearance change may not bother your partner, but they might bother you. You have to come to terms with your post-cancer body.
Julie blogs regularly over at Silverlupus: life thru cancer and other hiccups.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in blogging about dealing with cancer as a young adult.