I hope you will call or write if you have something you'd like to share, or discuss confidentially with me or another CANCER CARE social worker. In addition, we have a great deal of written information, available free of charge like all of our services. Finally, we are continually forming new support groups as part of the Sexuality and Cancer program.
Sexuality and Cancer:
An Important Issue
In my years as a clinician, one of the key challenges I face is helping cancer patients improve the quality of their lives.
For CANCER CARE clients, this has taken on increased importance -- many cancers that were considered 'incurable' only ten years ago are now treatable, and newer forms of medication can extend both the length of a person's life and help to lessen many severe symptoms of cancer and treatment.
As the crisis that often accompanies diagnosis and treatment begins to normalize, for most CANCER CARE clients, other life concerns can begin to re-emerge. And in many ways, nothing is more basic a life concern than one's sexuality. How we feel about ourselves as men and women, about our bodies, about being intimate physically, and emotionally, are all part of who we are as human beings.
Unfortunately, the disease of cancer generates many associations and attitudes that can leave people feeling frightened, victimized, and deprived
Since 1990, I have worked with cancer patients and their spouses, and seen how the traumatizing experience of a cancer diagnosis and treatment can affect a person's ability to be physically as well as emotionally intimate. What surprises me most is that, contrary to what you would expect, only a small percentage of my clients actually raise sexuality as an issue. I find it striking how often clients are able to talk about how they feel, but how difficult it is for them to talk about how their lives have changed. Let me share a story with you: last year I was working with a man named Jim*, who was part of my cancer patient support group. One day Jim informed me that his wife seemed depressed, and asked if I could talk with her. We met, and after talking for a while, it was clear that Carol* was handling Jim's diagnosis and treatment well enough. However, she eventually revealed that she was extremely upset because Jim's cancer had required medication that made him impotent, and their marriage was struggling as a result.
Needless to say, Carol's talk with me broke the ice, and she and Jim were able to talk about their sexual relationship. They discovered that just being able to discuss and share their fears and concerns was the most important step in learning to resolve their problems.
In fact, it was my work with Carol that initiated the Sexuality and Cancer program here at CANCER CARE, which I have been directing ever since. It continues to surprise me how often sexuality is an important issue to couples who are coping with cancer, but are unexplored, even between each other. Most people, I have found, need not just support, but in some ways need "permission" to be able to talk about their sexual relationship.
Every year, CANCER CARE helps thousands of people understand that life does not end when cancer begins. And whether you are 26 or 76, your ability to be both physically and emotionally intimate with those you love is a very important element for living a quality life.