ELO loves to highlight other community advocates that share our vision. We would like to present this month's guest blogger, Virgil Anderson. Check out Virgil's blog about maintaining intimacy will living with mesothelioma and share your thoughts.
There are many challenges of living with mesothelioma: facing mortality, difficult symptoms, making choices about treatment, and being more limited in activities. This extends to sexual intimacy, an issue not many people think about until they are living with cancer, especially an incurable, painful, and limiting kind of cancer.
While it may seem that survival, treatment, and relieving physical symptoms are the most important factors for someone with mesothelioma to consider, the issue of intimacy and relationships cannot be neglected. For a patient in a committed relationship, there are a lot of difficulties to confront, including changes in the relationship and intimacy. If you have mesothelioma or asbestos-related cancer, and intimacy is an issue for you and your partner, talk to your doctor about what your limitations are. Also consider working with a therapist to help you and our partner cope together.
Factors That Affect Intimacy
Living with a disease like mesothelioma is not simple. It goes well beyond coping with discomfort and making choices about cancer treatment. You are facing the fact that you will probably not live as long as you imagined you would. You are living with a diminished ability to be active, to do the same activities you once enjoyed. You may be more dependent on others than you used to be. And, you are doing this all while experiencing symptoms and side effects of treatment and making very important life decisions.
The most obvious thing that will impact your sexual intimacy with a partner is a preoccupation with these changes that you are facing. It may seem inconsequential to worry about sex with your partner when you are making life-changing decisions. The stress of coping with this illness can simply take your libido away. It can be a psychological or a physical change, but you may simply not be interested in sex.
Then there are the real, physical consequences of being sick and of going through chemotherapy or radiation therapy or undergoing major surgery. You are probably experiencing serious fatigue, pain, immobility, difficulty breathing, or abdominal discomfort, among many other potential symptoms that most people with mesothelioma experience.
Finally, you have some emotional and psychological roadblocks to intimacy with your partner. Your body is probably changing, maybe in ways you don’t like. You may gain or lose a lot of weight and this can affect your self-confidence. The changing relationship with your partner may also be a factor, for instance, if you now are more dependent on him or her than you ever were before.
Talking to Your Doctor about Sex
This is not always the most comfortable conversation to have, but it is important if you are in a loving relationship. Cancer can take a toll on relationships, and physical intimacy may be one of the first things impacted by one partner being sick. Aside from generally being embarrassed to talk to your doctor about sex, you may also worry that your doctor will downplay its importance. You may be concerned that your doctor will encourage you to focus on treatment and worry about intimacy later. But it is an issue for you now, and that means your doctor will be happy to talk to you about it and offer guidance.
To have this discussion with your doctor, first be prepared with questions that you need answered. This will help the conversation go more smoothly. Ask things like whether or not it is safe for you to have sex, if there are any risks or limitations you should consider, or if your treatments will affect your libido. You can ask about any precautions you should take. And, if you experience sexual dysfunction because of the cancer or your treatments, ask about remedies that would be safe for you to try. For young patients, asking about how treatment will affect fertility is also important.
The Benefits of Intimacy
While sex may not be the same for you as it was before you got sick, if you are physically able to be intimate, and if you want to be intimate with our partner, there are some positive benefits to doing so. For one thing, being sexual with your partner can restore a sense of normalcy to your life. Everything seems to change when you get sick, but if you can keep your intimate relationship going, it may help you feel a little more grounded.
Sexual intimacy in all forms with a loving partner can also be a great source of comfort for a patient with mesothelioma. One study of cancer patients found that those most satisfied with their sex lives were able to enjoy intimacy and closeness with a partner, even if that did not mean sexual intercourse. In other words, sexual dysfunction caused by cancer did not prevent these patients from enjoying being close with their partners.
Your doctor should be able to tell you if there are any risks associated with being intimate while living with cancer or going through treatments. Any risks may be dependent on your individual health and treatments. One concern is radiation during treatment. Most types of radiation therapy do not make patients radioactive or put their partners at risk.
Pain is a consideration, and so is having sex after surgery. Being intimate may exacerbate pain and any kind of physical activity after surgery has the potential to cause harm. For younger patients, pregnancy may be a risk. If you are too ill to carry a child or if you have made the choice to not have children because of being sick, using contraceptives is important.
Cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy can weaken the immune system. This means that for a period of time after treatment you may be more susceptible to infections. This is an important consideration if you are going to be sexually active and protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases is crucial. Talk to your doctor about your risks and what you need to know to stay safe.
Talking to Your Partner
One of the most important things you can do to maintain sexual intimacy is to be open about it with your partner. Open communication will help you to overcome obstacles, make the kinds of changes to your sex life that you need to make, and to keep on being intimate in spite of changes to your body and your health. Talk to each other about what your limitations are, how you want to continue to be intimate, and about what your fears and worries are.
If you are the one living with cancer, make sure you keep your partner in the loop with respect to your treatments and how they make you feel. If your partner has mesothelioma, be patient and understanding. Ask questions so you know how having cancer or being treated is making him or her feel about intimacy. Above all, always communicate with each other to not only maintain sexual intimacy, but to maintain a healthy and strong relationship.
Living with mesothelioma is not easy, but there are ways to make it less challenging. One of these is to face the issue of sexual intimacy head on. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about it because research has found that most doctors wait for their patients to bring up the subject. Ask questions, be patient with yourself and your partner, make necessary changes, and talk to your partner. Let him or her help you and care for you, whether that means being intimate or holding off on sex for a while.
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