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Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on the sexual aftermath of cancer treatment. If you missed our Aug. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind when a breast cancer surgeon told me I needed a double mastectomy five years ago. No matter what kind of cancer you have, the surgery and treatment you go through will have a profound effect on all aspects of your life, including your sex life. But Wife wants hot sex Radium whatever reason, most of us talk about the mechanics of sex about as readily as we talk about the mechanics of other normal, healthy functions like, say, pooping.
I knew that even a nipple-sparing mastectomy would eliminate two key players on the team, leaving my chest a dead zone — no nerves, no feeling, nothing. But not all breast cancer patients know this going in. Losing my breasts and sensation was just the beginning. Chemo, radiation and tamoxifen pretty much neutered me, tamping down that sweet little flame of desire that flickers within us all.
The sad truth is along with saving your life knock woodcancer treatment can squelch your libido, make sex painful or impossiblemess with your ability to orgasm and even render your private parts numb — and that goes for both men and women. A lot. Chemo and radiation can wreak havoc with the soft, deliciously sensitive parts of your body, damaging the mucous membranes in your mouth, nose, eyes, ears, and yes, vagina, penis and anus.
Radiation can also burn your skin, fry your ovaries and sperm and turn soft, sensitive tissue thick and tough. And all three reduce blood flow, which keeps our private bits plump and moist and, well, sensational — the very stuff of sex. Without it, these delicate tissues atrophy. Cancer cuts us to our sexual quick. And surprise! Nobody wants to talk about it: not doctors, not patients, not even their partners.
Sex after cancer has become the elephant in the bedroom. This year alone, an estimated 1. All cancer treatment zaps your energy, though, and most messes with your hormones — at least temporarily. The result? You guessed it. The good news for survivors? The bad news? Most patients wait for their doctors to bring up the whole sex thing but doctors are often too uncomfortable — or too pressed for time — to do so. In a Livestrong report, 43 percent of the 3,plus cancer patients surveyed had physical problems related to sexual functioning and only 13 percent got help for them.
But the inexcusable happens. I remember my oncologist telling me about hair loss, but did she mention my pubic hair would also fall out? And composing music. And exercising. And working constantly. Sublimation can be a wonderful thing. For a time. But what about patients who are married? Or in their sexual prime? Remember, cancer touches young and old alike.
A quick survey on the private Facebook group Beyond the Pink Moon prompted a slew of anecdotes from breast and ovarian cancer patients. While some received great proactive care or had few side effects, many more talked of dismissive doctors, flummoxed partners and their frustration over a new normal that was surprisingly asexual. It really sucks for everyone.
I wish people talked about this more! A board member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO, Lyman recently helped write two sets of survivorship guidelinesboth of which touched on sexual side effects. New guidelines from the Wife wants hot sex Radium Comprehensive Cancer Network to which Syrjala contributes also provide good guidance, as do many survivorship programs around the country, including the one at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Another big issue: partners often act as caregivers and, once treatment is over, have trouble leaving that role. And this happens with couples in their 30s and couples in their 70s, with mixed-gender couples and with same-gender couples.
Michele Longabaugh, of Wichita, Kansas, had just turned 47 in the spring of when she learned — on her birthday, no less — that she had stage 4 anal cancer. The cardiology nurse, now 53, went through surgery, chemo and seven weeks of pelvic radiation, and was free of disease for two years.
But it came back in the fall of and she had to on for more treatment. Think charley horse in your hoo-ha every time you try to have sex. I had a very healthy sex life prior to cancer. My husband and I are very much in love.
It hurts. The nurse recommended dilators — a set of Russian nesting doll-type dildos — as well as topical estrogen cream, which helped to some extent. Longabaugh has also tried pelvic floor physical therapy for her vaginismus and uses a numbing cream to help re-acclimate her exceedingly tender tissues to sex. But she believes more could have been done to prevent the damage in the first place.
Some treatment centers, she said, instruct patients to use dilators during pelvic radiation to stave off damage. You have to address the hierarchy of needs and guess what, sex is on there. There is good news. Social mediaonline communitiestweetchatsblogs and private Facebook groups offer plenty of places where patients can swap stories and learn about solutions — and there are tips, tools and treatments that can help.
Survivorship guidelines now fold sex into the mix, arming primary care physicians and oncologists with news they can use. Less-invasive treatments like immunotherapy are starting to be used with more coming down the pike.
As is research. According to Syrjala, patients are much more willing to discuss sexual dysfunction than they were 20 years ago, making it easier for clinical researchers like her to glean data and devise solutions. A retired history teacher, Dibblee has been dealing with cancer since he was a young man. But he and his wife of 34 years still have a meaningful sex life, he said, thanks to testosterone replacement therapy and their strong love for each other.
Plus dating after cancer is daunting. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at doublewhammied. her at dmapes fredhutch. Donate Now. Hutch News Stories. The sexual aftermath of cancer treatment. Sex after cancer treatment can be complicated and many times, patients, their partners and even their providers don't talk about it.
It's become the elephant in the bedroom. Hair grows back, though.
Libidos, not so much. A common side effect of treatment This year alone, an estimated 1. Gary Lyman. Fred Hutch file photo. Advocating for openness Michele Longabaugh, of Wichita, Kansas, had just turned 47 in the spring of when she learned — on her birthday, no less — that she had stage 4 anal cancer.
One of her biggest realities: finding help for the sexual side effects of her treatment. Cancer patient Jon Dibblee and his wife, Cindie, of 34 years. Photo courtesy of Jon Dibblee. Moving forward There is good news. Help Us Eliminate Cancer Every dollar counts. Please support lifesaving research today. Custom Donation Amount. Your body, after cancer Coming to terms with the 'new normal' after surgery and treatment March 6, Susan Love The influential advocate, surgeon and survivor talks trends, treatment and ways to fast-track breast cancer research October 9, Fertility after cancer: Young women less likely to be told about options New study finds young male cancer patients twice as likely to be counseled on preserving fertility July 27, Last Modified, May 06,Wife wants hot sex Radium
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