Sex after cancer is complicated. You know what else is complicated? Writing about sex after cancer.
I tackled the topic last week in a two-part series for FredHutch.org. And even though it felt like I was walking around in my underpants when the stories came out (I talked a little bit about my own experience in this realm), I’m glad I covered it because it’s a big issue for cancer patients and it doesn’t get a ton of attention.
As I said in the story, cancer cuts us to our sexual quick. We lose body parts. We lose our libido. Oftentimes, we lose our sexual selves. Men struggle with impotence; women are plunged into menopause decades before they would naturally arrive; and many are left to sort it all out on their own.
Why? Because people often don’t feel comfortable talking about this stuff – not doctors, not patients, not even their partners. Sex after cancer has become the elephant in the bedroom.
Here’s a link to Part 1, which covers the sexual aftermath of cancer treatment and how surgery, chemo, radiation and hormone treatments — all those things they do to keep us alive — can cause all kinds of sexual side effects, from fatigue and body image issues to erectile dysfunction and vaginismus.
And here’s Part 2, which offers a few experts tips and tricks that we as patients can use to hack our post-treatment sex life.
As I said, it’s not easy to write about this stuff or talk about this stuff. So I’d like to give a huge shout out to two amazing patients: stage 4 anal cancer patient Michele Longabaugh and testicular cancer patient Jon Dibblee. Both were kind and courageous enough to talk about the sexual challenges they’ve faced since treatment and I can’t thank them enough for their candor and insights. Many thanks, also, to Nicki Boscia Durlester and her private breast and ovarian cancer Facebook group, Beyond the Pink Moon. It’s so important to have safe, supportive places like this where patients can bond and bare all.
Did your cancer and treatment lead to sexual side effects? Did your doctor downplay the damage or mention it at all? Let me know in the comments section. Still have more to say? Please join me and the folks at Fred Hutch tomorrow (August 4) at 10 a.m. (Pacific) for a tweetchat on the topic. Use #ChatFredHutch to join the conversation.