Cancer and our physical relationships

I am writing this on a very quiet day, and I was reflecting that I have now written over 80 posts since I started this blog. I thought that I must have written about most subjects connected with cancer, but I realised that there is one important subject that I haven’t  touched on, and I don’t really know why! I thought that maybe because it is such a sensitive subject, I have avoided it, but that isn’t really my style at all, and is a very important part of our lives, so here we go.

In most cases, our physical relationships are very closely linked to our mental well being. If things are good in our lives, happy days, our sex lives are great! When things get tough, then our physical relationships tend to suffer as well. This is ok, if your tough time is only temporary, but if you have been diagnosed with a long term illness, it can be very tough to keep sex on the agenda.

When cancer is diagnosed, there are many things to be discussed at the hospital. Amongst  points on that very ominous check list, are questions regarding your private life. All very important I might add, particularly if you are unfortunate to be requiring treatment, when having children is on your horizon. Questions about fertility, and reproduction are critical at this stage, so not only are you worried about your own health, you must start making crucial decisions that can affect the rest of you and your partners lives. This may even happen when you don’t  have a partner!
I remember my own meeting, with my Macmillan Nurse. She was telling my wife and I about what we could expect in the way of side effects from the chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant. Whilst I was taking in things like, losing my hair, putting on weight with steroids, and urinating luminous toxins, she then asked me if I was still sexually active! I said “I was until you mentioned all those things”!! We all laughed, and she discussed the need to use condoms where necessary, which again, was very important, and I wouldn’t have thought about.
We all like to look and feel attractive, which are both ingredients in a happy and fulfilling physical relationship. However, it can be difficult at times, when your life is at risk, and you are on a regular regime of tough treatment. For some cancers, there can be life changing surgery involved, and a lifetime of drugs to take, which can change your physical shape, and your own perception of attractiveness.

Sometimes, the battle can be about how we see ourselves, not how others see us. If we are not happy with things about ourselves, it is going to be difficult, to understand how others can find us attractive. These problems, cross the gender divide, and are common to both men and women. With some treatments and surgery, men can lose the mechanics of an erection, either temporarily or permanently. For woman, there can be various different physical and psychological issues to face.

When facing life or death situations, your physical relationship, probably doesn’t score highly on the to do list, but if you are lucky enough to come through that experience, how fully does your life proceed? I have had many discussions with my fellow patients over the years and in a lot of cases this subject produces laughter! My opinion is that people affected by cancer feel comfortable talking about these sort of issues, to someone who has experienced the same kind of things. This is because, they are the only people who can truly understand what is involved.

We all find it difficult to talk about our relationships, and that subject is up there alongside personal finances, in terms of subjects that are almost taboo for chit chat.But in my opinion, getting that side of your life up and running again, is a massive step forward for your general well being. I also feel that it is a part of your recovery that is totally overlooked, when you are outside the hospital environment. After a cancer diagnosis and treatment, it can feel like you are left alone to pick up the pieces of your life.

For life to get back on track, a lot of psychological issues need to be dealt with, to enable the physical issues to happen naturally. There are a lot of pieces to put together, before you can see the complete picture. If you are reading this and you are lucky enough not to have experienced any of the above, maybe you know someone who has, and this might help you understand some of the situations involved. If you have experienced anything similar, maybe you would like to share your observations?

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    • Hi John
      It was great to meet you too.thanks for your comments re the blog.Blogging is such a fantastic way of communicating with people. Those that are interested can log on, and those that aren’t can leave it alone!

      When I started this one, I never really thought about an international audience, but that is what is happening now. Of course, our problems are the same, which ever country we live in, and with Google Translate etc, everyone can read it.

      One upside of our situation is the wonderful people that we meet, both patients and staff. I hope to see you soon, at one of our sessions, and hope that the treatment goes well for you.