Sex….let’s talk about it. Sex is viewed as a taboo topic for most, but you know what else is? Cancer! Let’s put both topics together and talk about them. When you think about cancer, you don’t typically think about sex, and vice versa. At least for the “normal” people out there (haha). Not those that have had the wonderful honor of hearing the words “you have cancer”. I have attended many cancer related functions; and, other than cancer, they all have one complaint in common – sex and the lack of education survivors are given before, during, and after treatment. Personally, I was never talked to about sex unless it was to tell my husband at the time and I, what many of us are told. “Don’t have sex without protection for 48 hours after chemo.”
What about fertility? What about any possibility of pain? Will we need to use lube? Is this forever? When does it go away? OR, what about the lack of desire to have sex at all? The decrease in libido was NEVER discussed with me, and I’m learning that with the young adults that are diagnosed, the focus is solely on “you’re young, let’s get you cured.” Which, who wouldn’t want that?! But where is the quality of life after that? I’m a young adult that survived cancer, how do I return to my life? Dating? Casual hook ups? Marriages? Long-term relationships? Those don’t matter because I survived cancer and I should just be thankful of that right? WRONG! You can be thankful to be alive AND still want to have sex.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll tell you a little about myself. I was 24 years old and 17 weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I have Lynch Syndrome and for those that aren’t familiar with this, it’s a genetic disorder that predisposes me to a few different cancers with colon cancer being the highest risk. I was only dating my daughter’s father for three months at the time I got pregnant, and it wasn’t long after that I was told I had cancer – OH, he was also deployed!
I went through chemo while pregnant, had seizures due to eclampsia and had to be flown to a hospital two hours away to deliver my daughter. I went back on chemo and had a major surgery that removed all of my organs I didn’t need, to include a hysterectomy removing my ovaries as well as my uterus and tubes. When prepping for that removal, my medical team never explained the impact that would have on my body moving forward. I was told I could have sex when I felt comfortable to have sex, and that was the end of that discussion. I continued as if that part of my life was unaffected, when it so obviously was! My sex drive had dropped to almost non-existent, and at 25 that shouldn’t be the case. Let’s not forget I had a literal bag of shit on my side! Is that sexy or what?
Bless James’ heart, he never said anything about it or complained when I would vent about the ostomy and not feeling attractive. When most couples are counting down the weeks until they can have sex again after childbirth, James and I were focused on managing my side effects and worrying about the precautions we had to take if we wanted to have sex. I had no idea I was running on zero hormones, and my body was screaming at me to help it. I am not one to be shy when it comes to talking about anything and everything cancer, so I wasn’t embarrassed to talk about sex with my oncologist. I just didn’t know that was something I HAD to talk to them or ask them about.
After I went to my first colorectal cancer function where others were discussing this issue, I realized I wasn’t alone. The physical, emotional, mental, and sexual parts of your life change, and it doesn’t go back to “normal” after cancer. Currently, I have been in remission since that major surgery in February 2016 and I just had my recent scan while shown 5 years in remission! I am no longer with James – the father of my daughter, but I am in a relationship with someone for the past couple of years. Lucky him, he got to miss all the excitement, but he doesn’t get to miss the long-term effects of cancer and chemo. Talking to someone new about a broken butt-hole (my twist of humor on colon cancer) and decreased sex drive doesn’t exactly make you desirable, but I guess my dancing skills were good enough for him to ignore those statements (or he was intoxicated enough).
We met at a country bar where I frequented often due to my love of country dancing, and that allowed me to feel normal again and not that I had all this baggage I have been pulling around with me, but once you meet someone and you start dating, you realize you were never prepared for that conversation. It’s not typically your first date, conversation over dinner type talk either. But me being as shy as I am, he knew everything the first night we met – you’re welcome Patrick. I have scars all over my stomach and of course the port scar – all of which I love and I’m proud of, but you never know how someone new will react to that.
It’s silly and crazy to me that as an adult, you have sex, a lot, and it comes to someone new, and you almost forget how to participate without worrying about how you look, what do they see, what are they thinking about what they are seeing, maybe they already told you it doesn’t bother them, but are they just being nice? “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!” Not only do you have these thoughts, but why not add, “Am I going to get wet enough? Does he think I’m not enjoying this? Is this going to hurt? Do I need to start using lube? I don’t want to use lube, it’s too messy, this is too new.” How in the world do you expect to enjoy sex or have an orgasm that way?!
Speaking for myself, this has since changed, and I’m more comfortable with who I am and I accept me, which is truly what has made the biggest difference for me and my confidence in the bedroom. I enjoy sex significantly more now since accepting myself, and it has made me realize and think back, “All those times before, was the sex really that bad or was it me?”
I always encourage people who are fairly newly diagnosed to have the discussion of sex and what could be impacted for them due to treatment, medications, surgeries etc., because at least knowing and having some sort of expectation for what can happen is a bit easier to deal with vs the surprise factor of it. Cancer is unknown enough, why add something else?