This week, I want to dive into a topic that’s not always at the top of the list during one’s oncology appointments. Yet it’s something that most of us do regularly (or at least we’d like to be) and it’s something that — surprise, surprise — cancer significantly affects. If you haven’t guessed, yes, I’m talking about sex.
There’s no doubt that the word “cancer” is a bit of a mood killer in the bedroom. It doesn’t exactly scream “jump into bed with me.” For many patients, sex is often the last thing on their minds when going through treatment. Still, if you’re like me and have been dealing with this cancer malarkey for some time, eventually you’re going to want to get on with it.
Yet the reality is that more often than not, treatments such as chemotherapy have an adverse effect on both the libido and the ability to perform. I can’t speak for men, of course, but as a young woman in her 20s, it’s been challenging to accept that my body no longer functions the way it’s supposed to. While certain medications and aids can lend a hand with the physical side of things, mentally, it can be upsetting to accept and adjust to these changes.
In a relationship, these hurdles can be tough to navigate. For those in the dating pool, it’s an entirely different ballpark. The key thing to remember in these situations is the importance of honest communication. While it never will be easy to discuss, open conversation is something that hopefully can bring you and your partner closer. We shouldn’t be made to feel any sense of shame around these issues, because at the end of the day our bodies have been through a significant amount of trauma, and really, they’re just trying to remember which way is up (often, quite literally).
In addition to all of these tricky venereal complications, the very real possibility of infertility exists. For older patients, this might not be much of a problem. But for the young, it can be immensely difficult to deal with.
Recently, I spoke to my therapist about the possibility of being infertile. Only through unpacking this subject did I realize how much of a loss it is. When you’re young, you just assume that one day you’ll at least have the option of having kids. But to be told in the same week that you have cancer — again — and immediately need to have emergency IVF surgery to freeze your eggs, it’s a lot.
I was considered one of the luckier ones because my cancer was slow-growing and I could afford to do two weeks of hormone injections. Many women simply can’t wait because of the rate of their disease growth. Or they can’t afford IVF, which isn’t covered by insurance. It’s not an easy road for anyone to navigate.
Now that I’ve reached the end of treatment and am slowly finding my way back to some semblance of normality, I must come to terms with this potential loss. I don’t think I’ll truly process it until later, when I start to consider whether I want children. Right now, with my bald head and fatigued body, I’m just trying to focus on feeling like myself again and reconnecting to my femininity. But it’s hard to feel like a strong, even remotely sexy woman when life has stripped you of almost all the things you associated with your sexuality in the first place.
It’s forced me to reshape my perspective around sex and the meaning of self-confidence. I can genuinely say that right now, in this fragile state, I love my body more than I ever have, simply because of how much it has survived. So I try not to be too hard on myself when things don’t run as smoothly as they used to.
If I had any advice for you, whatever age or circumstance you may find yourself in, it would be to do the same. We will get there slowly, even if getting there means accepting our new norm.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.