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Sexual Health and Life with Cancer

M226's picture
M226
Posts: 3
Joined: Feb 2014

My husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer almost two years ago and underwent four rounds of chemo and an RPLND (among other surgeries like the initial orchiectomy and a lung wedge ressection) over the second half of 2012. 2013 was all about recovering from surgery and he's still in a lot of pain every day accompanied by fatigue, so as to be expected, our sex life looks very different now than it did before all this started (I myself have MS and so am very familiar with the reality of fatigue, but I've been lucky enough to be in remission for the last four years). I'm so incredibly thankful that he's maintaining his remission, especially since his initial diagnosis indicated such advanced disease. He has been so strong and we have built a beautiful life together and he constantly reminds me of how thankful he is that we have each other. I found a note from him on my way to work this morning, "please watch out for wild drivers today while driving in the rain. Get home safe to me. Please. So I can wrap you in my arms and appreciate your genuinely sublime beauty. I love you." 

Our day to day is extremely intimate –– we cuddle and hug and kiss on a daily basis –– but we're both in our late 20s and my sex drive is fairly high (I'd take it every day if that were possible) so I find myself in this constant battle with myself.

We've had penetrative vaginal intercourse once in the last year, occasionally interspersed with mutual masturbation (once every two months or so). These instances are inevitably initiated by me, and he seems much more interested in my pleasure than in his own. He seems to show little to no interest in sexual pleasure for himself. Compound that with the fact that most of the time he isn't up for it anyway, and it is nearly impossible for me to know when he Would potentially be up for it. As a result, I've found myself trying tactic after tactic to initiate sex in hopes that maybe, just maybe, this time he'll be up for it. But that ends up looking like a lot of rejection, and a lot of pressure on him. Neither of these things is healthy or what we want to acheive.

There's the part of me that hears his pain and insecurity, the part of me that tries to reason with myself that we're intimate in so many ways outside of sex, the part of me that feels guilty for even allowing myself to feel this discomfort. But there is this aching reality that my reasonable brain and even my empathetic heart are not enough to hold my lizard brain at bay. Sex matters. And it's causing us both a lot of stress. 

We tried a strategy early on that we would promise to have some sort of sexual encounter once a week, even if it was really minor. But he ended up feeling this enormous pressure leading up to every weekend (which he didn't tell me about until well into the experiment) that pretty much killed it. We try to talk about this stuff together, but I end up feeling really guilty for putting this on him amongst everything else that he has to deal with and I'm left with the feeling like I'm just going to have to suck it up and deal. And now, since mutual masturbation is the standard sexual encounter that we do have, I feel really insecure about even just masturbating on my own in front of him. I would get started and if he was around, he would interpret this action as necessarily wanting to do it with him (which of course would be ideal but I'm happy to take care of myself on my own), and he would gently say, "later". But it's always later later later, so a couple of times I've just gone ahead on my own anyway. But then he feels guilty for not having it in him to participate, which kinda kills it. So I've taken to masturbating in secret. Either in the bath, or in bed in the early morning while he's still asleep. I'll usually tell him about it later and he'll get a little kick out of that, but the fact that I feel I've got to keep it secret in the first place really sucks the joy out of the experience while it's happening. 

It's easy for me to get wrapped up in my own anger and frustration, especially since his pain is invisible to me. He walks around town with me and we go to the gym together and he performs in his band, and I can't help but be screaming inside that Couldn't Some of That Energy Be Spent on Our Sex Life? But there are all of these complicating factors that he sites when we talk about it, including body image issues related to his surgical scars and he's lost so much weight, and even though he still climaxes and feels sexual pleasure, his ejaculations are dry now because of a severed nerve so he just doesn't feel very sexy. I flirt with him and touch him and tell him that he's beautiful and he really is, he's easily one of the most attractive people I've ever met. Everybody says he looks like Gael Garcia Bernal. You must understand my torture! 

His testosterone is in the 200s which is technically in the normal range for a human male, but more typical for a 50-60 year old. Is it normal for Him? His doctors are eager to investigate this, but he seems to be averse to figuring that part out. Is a low testosterone level a threat to his self image such that he would turn a blind eye to the possible truth of it?

The worst part of all this is, the conversation has been dragging on so long that it's now an emotional minefield and I think we're both choosing to avoid it and focus on what IS working. Which works most of the time... except when my lizard brain erupts in torment. 

I know it won't last forever. "The sex will get better when I get better", these are his words. But in the mean time this is really, really, really hard. I feel so alone in this, it's not something that I can really share with anyone that we're close to. Our relationship is strong in so many ways and this journey through cancer has cemented our bond, but I fear that a rift is developing in our sexual health and that this is going to generate real consequences for our relationship and our overall health. Stress is bad for the body, and 2014 is the year for coming back to wellness. 

ConnieSW's picture
ConnieSW
Posts: 698
Joined: Jun 2012

no one has responded to you.  I don't have anything helpful to say other than your feelings are valid and I feel bad for you.  You are so young to have to deal with this.  Would he be willing to have couples counseling?  

M226's picture
M226
Posts: 3
Joined: Feb 2014

I know this is a difficult topic for people to talk about, so I'm not really surprised. I don't expect to transform people's insecurities surrounding sex just by opening up myself haha! Mostly I just needed to get my thoughts in some sort of order, which writing inevitably helps facilitate. I know that there are others out there that share my struggles – it's an appreciatively common challenge in long term relationships. But cancer brings with it a host of complicating factors that influence virtually EVERY aspect of our lives, including sexual health. My husband and I have considered counseling, as you alluded to, and that will be a critical step for us. But I do seek the comfort of shared experience, which is of course why I chose to post my thoughts in this forum. If anybody has insight into this I really do appreciate it! 

grandmafay's picture
grandmafay
Posts: 1638
Joined: Aug 2009

The subject itself is not difficult for me. I have been on a short vacation and am just now catching up on my reading here. I didn't answer when I first saw the post because I didn't feel like I really had anything to offer. My husband and I were in our late 50s early 60s when he battled his cancer. We had been married 42 years when he passed away. Sex had been more important and more frequent in our younger years. It just wasn't something we focused on after cancer entered our life. Fatigue and pain kept sex pretty infrequent then. Intimacy was much more important. I don't know how we might have handled it in our 20s. Since you didn't ask for advice, though, I'm not going to give any, especially since I don't have any. I agree that counseling might be helpful. I'm am glad that you felt safe to come here to express your concerns. I have found that most here try to be helpful and don't judge. Difficult topics often find their way to these boards. Your post might help others with similar concerns know they are not alone. I am sure you aren't either. Fay

alleyoop
Posts: 5
Joined: Feb 2015

We have went thur prostrate cancer. sex isnt what it  was. But the intimay is far better, erections and such bring joy for a minute or so, by the hugging and such can go on for ever. Please stand by your man and support him recovery will happen nuch faster, I know it worked for us. One more thing share guilt, doubts, hopes, and every thing in your life to make it a rich one.

Alexandra's picture
Alexandra
Posts: 1299
Joined: Jul 2012

I am glad that your bond with your husband is strong in other areas of your marriage. He is a caring and sensitive man; I'm floored by the "sublime beauty" note he wrote. I can't recall anything close to that in my 20 years of marriage.

It sounds like your husband doesn't have problems with arousal and maintaining erections but is suffering from the low libido. That could be caused by low testosteron, long-term chemo side effects or possibly depression. There are topical gels on the market (Testim / Androgel) and drugs like Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid) that could help with low T. I don't know if they are safe for TC survivors, he should ask his doctor. I think that talking to a marriage counsellor or couples therapist is a good idea too. Or maybe your husband would be more comfortable talking to an onco-psychologist without you in the room. It takes long time to get over chemo-induced fatigue and other side effects; months, sometimes years.

You are a young healthy woman and your needs must be met one way or another. Masturbation with or without toys is a quick and easy fix. I wouldn't make a big secret of it. If he feels like jumping in, great; otherwise he can watch. You didn't mention oral. If it's not something you normally do, learn and suggest it. Very few guys would turn a BJ down and it doesn't require as much energy as vaginal or anal intercourse. Many guys get aroused by watching porn, semi-private sex (car, balcony, hot tub, park, etc.), fantasy role play or dare I say... inviting a 3rd person in. Communicate but don't talk this issue to death; experiment within your limits; try to be light and spontaneous; keep your sense of humor and don't give up on sex.

There are some helpful tips here http://www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/finishing-treatment/male-sexual-health-after-cancer/ and here http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinmen/sexualityfortheman/index

 

Good luck!

david54
Posts: 115
Joined: Apr 2009

 

Hope you don’t mind hearing from a man’s experience and feedback here.

 

First of all, thank you for sharing this, it takes courage and trust to do so. This is a huge part of our lives, ignoring it is like trying to forget the proverbial bull in the china shop so to speak.

 

I cannot speak for your husband specifically, but in general, a man’s self-image is tied into pleasing and performing for his wife. We have our own expectations of how we should perform and it terrifies us to think that we are not capable of meeting our partner’s physical needs.

 

I think the goal, if I may be so bold if for both of you to find a point where you can meet each other’s needs without fear and frustration….so many couples struggle with this that are not having physical issues - but in our situations its magnified even more.

 

My basic advice for what it’s worth is …keep talking. Express your needs, tell him what you like, stroke (no pun intended) your husband’s ego.  We are kind of insecure in that area, but if we know we are pleasing our mate, it gives us more confidence to express our needs.

 

Thanks for letting me share-hope it offers encouragement.

 

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