Lost and Found: Re-Establishing Intimacy after Cancer

Sex, intimacy and relationships after cancer can be scary, unchartered territory. It is normal (yes! normal) for young adult cancer survivors to not feel particularly sexual or physically attractive after treatment. It’s a real thing that’s been studied! Check that out here. Think about it. Your body’s changed. Your life has changed. Your feelings about your body and life have likely changed. That reduced or complete lack of interest in sex could be physiological* or it could be psychological. Or both.

Some young adult cancer survivors have expressed feeling like their bodies have betrayed them. Young adults ages 18 to 39 may still be coming into their own about sexuality when a cancer diagnosis shows up like a party crasher. Oncologists are not equipped to have conversations about how to sustain intimacy during or after cancer when a patient has an existing partner much less addressing this subject with single young adults. The realization that intimacy has skipped town may not show up until after treatment has finished. This can feel out of place and confusing and cause further isolation and fear.

Changes to body image can greatly impact sex and intimacy, particularly if there were pre-existing struggles with it. Bodily changes during cancer can deepen these struggles or news ones can surface for the first time. Young adults are fighting life-threatening illnesses, and, on top that, their self-esteem is impacted by changes, sometimes dramatic ones, which are outside of their control.

Questions like, “When do I tell someone about cancer?” often arise. The answer is simple: when you’re ready. I am not suggesting this is a simple conversation, and you have no obligation to tell potential partners about your cancer journey until and unless you’re ready. Hear me add this gentle caveat: If your clothes are coming off, you might want to stop and have a conversation.

Now what? Well, what if you decided to try something different? What if, with a generous helping of compassion, you decided to be a pioneer for what might be possible with your body and life as it is now, today? Knowing that the frontier will include some moments of feeling awkward and weirdness? Also opportunity and creativity?

This August Lacuna Loft and YSC invite you to explore that frontier by participating in Lost and Found: Re-Establishing Intimacy after Cancer, a six week online video journal workshop for young adult cancer survivors (women only). You can find more information here. We hope to “see” you there!

*(ask your healthcare team if medicine you’re taking impacts libido and/or if there’s a tweak or addition in medication that might help)

– Acquati C, Zebrack BJ, Faul AC, et al. Sexual Functioning Among Young Adult Cancer Patients: A 2-Year Longitudinal Study. Cancer 2018; 124(2): 398-405.

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