Oh my! There's a topic.
On the third Monday of every month I attend the local women's cancer support group in my area. There's a mix bag of cancers and ages, the one common thread being that the members of the group are all women. I go along as a local practitioner and any female is welcome to come to support a loved one or to find out information for themselves.
This week the speaker was Elaine George, a sexologist who conducts workshops, couples retreats and speaks publicly on sexual health issues. She also writes columns for the Telegraph the Herald and speaks on radio and TV. - www.sexologyaustralia.com.au.
We're quite a small group, sometimes only three or four ladies. This week there were about ten! Can't image why! Actually, it's easy to understand why. Sex and cancer are not two things that readily go together and the opportunity to ask questions to an expert in a safe environment was a unique opportunity.
Elaine's main message was that intimacy and communication is key. Talking to your partner about how you are feeling and how he is feeling is something that doesn't always happen in the early stages of cancer treatment, everyone is in shock and literally going from day to day, so there can be misunderstandings about whether either partner wants sex or not. Most of the ladies present agreed that it was the furthest thing from their minds during treatment, many had breast or gynecological surgeries and didn't feel very feminine or sexy and they certainly didn't have any desire. But at the same time they wondered about their partners. Feedback was that partners sometimes felt too afraid to ask because they didn't want to cause any physical (or emotional) pain. Basically, it's a really tough time to be intimate. Elaine then went on to remind us that intimacy can be achieved without engaging in intercourse. She demonstrated an easy exercise - sit across from your partner and have them close their eyes then lightly stroke their face, hair and upper body using no pressure at all, almost like a feather. It's very intimate, comforting and close. She said that often the partner just needs to know that he is loved and appreciated and acknowledged.
The discussion was varied. There was talk on lubrication (cancer treatment can often put women into menopause which means that hormones stop working to provide natural lubrication), exercises to strengthen the pelvic wall and dilators (for women who have been through uterine cancer). Other things were mentioned but perhaps this isn't the place to mention them!
All in all it was a very informative evening talking about things that don't normally get discussed in public. Hopefully, in time, speaking with a sexologist will become part of the treatment plan for anyone going through cancer. Goodness knows it's a really important topic of discussion.