Our relationships and sex lives may be quite complex and challenging to manage sometimes. What happens when cancer is diagnosed and takes over our lives and the lives of those around us? When you are diagnosed with cancer, so is your family – your partner, your parents, your siblings, and your closest friends. The points and scenarios discussed in this blog post are not intended to strike fear but rather to help you realize that some of the emotions you encounter in your journey are actually normal, also to help you realize that your relationship to yourself and your loved ones are an important aspect in this journey.
When we’re swept away with the focus of diagnosis and treatment, our attention would be, rightfully so, abruptly redirected towards that, as we are introduced to a more challenging “normal” that imposes risks and changes that can affect our lives. Many physical and psychological factors impact our sexuality, our relationships with ourselves and our partner(s) during diagnosis and throughout the treatment. The mental, emotional, and physical effects might even linger on post-treatment too, as many continue taking hormone medication for an extended period of time or undergo surgery that physically changes a very intimate part of us.
Relationship stress may begin upon a diagnosis of cancer. First it begins within oneself. When the thoughts of denial and anger set in, a newly diagnosed cancer patient may begin feeling resentment towards their body for “letting them down”. They might feel pity for their partner, for having to drag them through this challenge so many decide it is best to distance themselves or even break off a relationship. A partner’s role in this journey begins here. A partner’s presence and support can make all the difference in a patient’s fight against cancer.
Slowly as treatment sets in, chemotherapy and endocrine therapy might impact how we feel about our bodies, ourselves internally, and about sex in general. Fatigue, nausea, dryness, painful intercourse and mood swings are just a few of the symptoms. If you don’t feel good in your body, it’s hard to want to have sex and pleasure. Talk about it with your spouse or even with your physician. Communication is very crucial throughout this journey. A partner must be present in the diagnosis period in order to know what they will be expecting in the treatment period and to become aware of all the changes that are bound to happen and prepare themselves mentally and socially to be more accommodating and understanding their partner’s physical, mental and emotional state during this period.
It might go deeper than that as the questioning of body image sets in, especially if undergoing breast surgery or hair loss from chemotherapy or even bloating from all the medications. This can leave any person feeling uncomfortable with intimacy, while questioning their own bodies. Acceptance and patience is key in adapting to and embracing the new changes happening all over our bodies. Let these changes empower you rather than break you! Allow yourself to be proud of YOU! If we dig deeper into our own resilience capacities, we must ask ourselves what we are going to do about it and how do we move forward? This can be seen as adaptive resilience, the ability to bounce with the waves instead of crashing.
The strain of having to deal with all these changes as well as treatment might not just affect the mental health but also time management. It might be difficult to feel like creating “fun activities” with your partner if you are in a relationship or start dating if you’re single. It’s a new challenge that might have removed the grounds of what you know of below your feet. It may feel like you’re walking on air and a new zone that isn’t comfortable. However, to every crisis there is a chance for resilience, transformative resilience to be exact. Within this resilience are the support we find within ourselves and the support we find from other people within our personal relationships but also within larger systems and communities. So many studies have shown the importance of support systems in not just fighting through but also growing in resilience. This challenge is not a punishment, but rather a wakeup call, to see and feel things differently. It is meant to bring you closer to yourself and to your loved one, not further away.
Relationship with Ourselves
Our ability to respond to change and challenging times is directly proportionate to our ability to stay connected to ourselves, our bodies and our partners. Something that may seem very hard with physical illness. We need to be aware of our boundaries, the old and new, when we need to recharge and have ‘me-time’ slots, when we want to connect, and how to communicate all of the above. Our responsibility as adults in society also includes a responsibility to ourselves, to maintain our health internally and not just externally. How would you support your friend or loved one in times of crisis? Can you apply the same to yourself? This includes the way we talk to ourselves, our self-talk, self-compassion and activities we may do to feel better. Finding different ways of nourishing ourselves, being kind to ourselves and taking ourselves on renewal breaks can be crucial to our wellbeing. This is a lifelong continuous process, yes, yet is especially important in such times.
Now, more than ever, your love and sex life matter profoundly. The support system that cultivates joy and the meaning of existence can help smoothen the process and increase wellbeing, despite all challenges, as studies show. Now is the time to strip off social ideologies of what they tell us beauty is, and embrace real beauty, in all its forms. What we are and who we could be.