People who have known each other and/or lived together for a period of time often become very close after a diagnosis of cancer, offering each other tremendous support through the bad moments and sharing joy and relief when times are good. In the early days the illness may take over your lives and as a carer you probably feel in danger of being overwhelmed; the ill person gets all the attention and you are left coping with the practical and emotional difficulties. It may help to talk to a counselor at this time and it also helps to keep a balance in your mind between what is necessary now for your relative against how you will return in the longer term to a more normal life.
When and how to resume sexual relationships after treatment is a sensitive issue for some people. If you and your partner have so far avoided the subject, choose an appropriate moment and broach the matter gently. It is important that you each have an opportunity to say how you are feeling. Emotions can cause severe anxiety, particularly following treatment for gynaecological cancer or dis-figuring surgery. The sense of shock felt by either partner may be quite profound. Allow considerable time to overcome the trauma and build up trust to be sexually close again.
The following suggestions offer helpful guidelines towards regain¬ing feelings of self worth.
– Sexual pleasure can be achieved in many ways other than by direct sexual intercourse.
– Caressing someone gently is a non-threatening way to give and receive pleasure as the sense of touch rarely diminishes.
– The well partner should be prepared to accept less and give more in the early stages.
– Ask about, and tell, your partner what feels good.
– Spend time creating a relaxed atmosphere, show patience and offer reassurance.
– Buy a book from a reputable bookshop to learn more about sexual skills.
– Turn the light off and keep the bedcovers in place if this helps to dispel embarrassment.
– Be guided by your partner’s mood and be careful about expressing negative feelings; a person who is struggling to cope with their own fragile emotions may not be able to han¬dle yours as well.
– Be flexible about the time of day that you explore sexual pleasure – night time, after a tiring day, may not be best time to choose.
– Try different positions for love-making to ease any discomfort and put less strain on tired limbs.
– If problems persist after a reasonable time period, ask for advice from your specialist, GP or specialist nurse, they will either be able to advise you or help you to get more specialist advice if this would be useful.
– Telephone a specialist organisation for relevant literature; most cancer support organisations offer a range of leaflets.
If your partner’s cancer has not resulted in physical changes to sexual organs, the general advice after an illness is to treat sex like any other activity leading to recovery. Regular sexual relationships are beneficial in relieving tension and inducing feelings of wellbeing. Be wary of over-stressing operation scars and work on the principle that normal sex, with a known partner, puts a strain on the body equivalent to climbing two flights of stairs!