Cancer doesn't have to hurt your sexuality
Published Thursday, November 20, 2008 2:29PM PST
Maureen Noel was stunned when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2004. Within weeks she had surgery to rid her body of the disease.
One thing that never crossed her mind was how the battle would affect her sexuality.
"I was much more concerned about saving my life than my sexuality at that point," she says.
But years later, and cancer free, that changed.
"I was ready to put my life back together again and so my sexuality became more important to me," says Maureen.
Up to 80 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men who undergo cancer treatment experience sexual issues -- from lack of sexual desire to physical pain.
"We know the changes in sexual function can be very distressing so when we're talking about cancer we can't not think about and talk about sexuality," says UBC Psychologist Dr. Lori Brotto.
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can all take a physical toll on the body. But Dr. Brotto says it's not just medical treatments that can impact sexual desire.
"We can't not think about the psychological impact, so the meaning of the diagnosis itself has an impact on states of depression and anxiety," she says.
Dr. Brotto says it's important for doctors to discuss the topic with their patients prior to undergoing treatment.
"Not that it would have necessarily changed or influenced their treatment decision making, but to prepare for those sexual change ahead of time would have helped them cope better when those did occur," she says.
There are also resources and information that can help.
"There are some excellent books that are out there that can be made available to patients in the local library or even at the BC Cancer Agency," she says.
And above all, Dr. Brotto says listen to your body.
"Be aware when fatigue is present, when pain is present, have an open mind, adjusting to sexuality after cancer may involve changing how you once did things," she says.
"I would say don't give up ever," says Maureen. "It's important to talk, to talk to your doctor, to talk to your partner, keep talking."
Maureen says getting information helped change things dramatically for her.
"I'm really feeling like I have my life back," she says. "I feel attractive, I feel feminine, I feel like a sexual being and I feel like I'm fully alive."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low