a sex therapist: Wait three to five days after chemo or use
a condom when having sex. But the writer and nonprofit
development director in Albany, New York, says she figured
other people must be struggling with sex, too, so she
started a blog, Love in the Time of Cancer, to document
the couple’s journey. Now Cameron offers workshops on
caregiving, and she always talks about sex so that those
attending don’t have to be the first ones to bring it up. “I
know that people feel shy, embarrassed or like they are
the only ones [who are having these issues],” she says.
She recommends that if an oncologist is uncomfortable
discussing sex, survivors and caregivers should ask to talk
with someone else—an oncology nurse, a rehabilitation
specialist, a sex therapist or another care provider who is
at ease discussing and addressing these kinds of challenges. She also suggests being persistent: “Ask until you
get an answer,” Cameron says.
RELATING ALL OVER AGAIN
Along with communicating with health care providers,
cancer survivors often need to work on communicating
with partners. “Sexuality is very complex. It involves
what’s going on physically and what’s going on mentally
and emotionally, as well as in people’s relationships,”
Many of these issues may not be directly related to the
physical act of having sex, but they can alter how a person
feels about it. Colorectal cancer patients, for instance,
may have to wear a temporary or permanent ostomy bag
to collect waste. People may wonder how to adjust to that
while maintaining a relationship or starting a new one,
Patient Power® was at ASH 2018, and
Reese says. Cancer and its treatment can also affect how
desirable a person feels to a partner.
“When you think about the surgeries and the treatments
people receive, many of them can affect both sexual functioning and body image,” Reese says, whether patients are
adjusting to surgical scars, hair loss or weight changes.
Education and support can help. In one study, Reese
and her colleagues surveyed colorectal cancer survivors
and their partners who participated in a four-session,
telephone-based intervention with a trained counselor to
educate them about sexuality and how to improve communication skills. Participants reported positive effects on
sexual function and greater enjoyment of intimacy compared to those who did not receive this counseling.