For the more than six million female cancer survivors living in the US today, the celebration of continued life and love can be interrupted by cancer treatment’s side effects, including in the bedroom. Experts at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center offer survivors advice on how to get their relationships back on track.
“The majority of the women I see say that their partners are very understanding throughout their treatment,” said Mary K. Hughes, P.R.N., C.N.S., a clinical nurse specialist, M. D. Anderson’s Psychiatry Department. “However, some women who have completed their treatment, have trouble with intimacy and say that they would like to be more interested in sex.”
At some point in their life, many women experience trouble with intimacy that can be attributed to a wide variety of issues. “Remember that regaining a powerful sexual relationship with your partner isn’t a race,” Mary said.
Any couple’s ability to maintain a healthy relationship relies, in part, on their ability to interact, relate and be intimate as they make challenging and life-affirming transitions.
“It’s important for partners to continue reassuring and complimenting her because a woman initially might have a hard time believing that her partner finds her attractive,” said Leslie R. Schover, Ph.D., a professor, M. D. Anderson’s Department of Behavioral Science and a licensed clinical psychologist.
Once a woman gets treated for cancer, she may develop a negative body image as a result of surgeries, or because of scarring. Although it is natural to have a difficult time accepting a change to the body, it is extremely important that women not project their own negative feelings onto their partner. “What the woman needs to remember is that she is usually more upset about the changes to her body than her partner is,” Leslie said.
“I have talked to a lot of partners, and the truth is that they are just happy that the woman they love is alive,” Mary said. “They are not concerned about a scar or an imperfect breast. A woman shouldn’t think that her partner isn’t comfortable with her new body.”
Some women who undergo chemotherapy experience sexual issues that are physiological, and loss of libido.“Without understanding how to avoid pain, many women lose interest in sex because it is traumatic and painful,” Leslie said.
“Partners shouldn’t be afraid to approach the woman sexually or express their desire,” Mary said. While loss of libido can be a difficult issue for cancer survivors to manage, open lines of communication and patience can make a hard transition much easier.
For additional information, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.