Of the many aspects of life cancer effects, intimate relationships are certainly not excluded. According to a report published by the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Foundation, sexual dysfunction affects up to 90% of women treated for breast cancer.
So why is this aspect of the disease so seldom talked about?
Jennifer Blake, Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada CEO says, ”physicians are trained to focus on the tumour, but the emotional side effects of cancer go untreated.” A survey of province-wide cancer agencies found that less than 2% of cancer centre's direct operating dollars were allocated to psychosocial care. Compare that to the 5% allocated to cleaning the facilities, and it becomes evident a demand is far from being met.
Companionship – from a healthy, happy relationship to a solid possee of pals, is an important part of a quality life, no matter who you are. This becomes especially true when a life-changing illness like cancer enters the equation.
Recognize Cancer Awareness Month by spreading the word about FacingCancer.ca, an online support group where women with cancer, and those who care about them, can find support and camaraderie with others on the same journey.
Containing articles and videos on topics like eating well during treatment, helpful books, wardrobe solutions, and coping with sexual difficulties (which Bumpyboobs blogger Catherine Brunelle handles with admirable grace and wit), the site features writings from a family of bodacious lady bloggers all across Canada. The site's tagline is "for everything else you're going through with cancer."
Lisa Skelding, a sex and couple’s therapist and blogger on the site, writes about how open communication is the first step to getting that emotional support needed to keep up quality of life with cancer: “At the heart of the issue is lack of communication. Not only do women undergoing cancer treatment feel anxious about their sexuality, they may feel awkward and exposed talking about intimacy with a professional or even with a sex partner.”
Skelding explains that intimacy doesn’t always have to mean sex, and feeling connected during treatment can provide not only a sense of normalcy, but comfort, strength and hope. “The psychological benefits are significant,” she adds.
Here are 3 tips for cancer patients to regain intimacy in their relationships:
1. Acknowledge feelings of hurt and loss in terms of sexuality, and talk to your partner about it. Understanding these effects, emotional and physical, can be a helpful first step in managing / overcoming them and feeling more connected as a couple.
2. Be brave. Gather up the strength to be open with your partner about what’s happening, and your feelings about it. Share, and you're not alone.
3. Don’t stop asking until you get the help you need. Your emotional wellbeing is every bit as important as your physical wellbeing. Schedule an appointment with your doctor, nurse or therapist, and specify that you have questions about cancer treatment and sexual health.
Click around FacingCancer.ca and see how other women are coping. Be inspired. Spread the word.