Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love – and is synonymous with chocolates, flowers and dinner reservations. Whether you are single or taken, the holiday often brings on a plethora of emotions.
When someone is living with cancer, this holiday may also bring up concerns about how their disease and treatment will affect their relationships and sexuality.
According to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Information Resource Center's team of master’s level oncology social workers, nurses and health educators, going through cancer treatment does not mean that you cannot be intimate. Many people are able to continue their sexual relationship or start a new one. As you go through the cancer journey with your loved one, feelings of trust and closeness may grow.
In a broad sense, sexuality refers to physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual health. This encompasses self-image, body image, reproductive ability, emotional intimacy, sensual feelings and sexual functioning.
Q. How might cancer affect my intimate relationships?
Sexuality-related concerns may arise from the physical aspects of a disease or treatment, as well as from the emotional aspects. Some effects resolve over time, others may be long-lasting. For example:
You may have a different sense of self-worth and self-confidence than you did before being diagnosed
You may worry that others see you differently because of physical changes
You may have few chances to be intimate with your partner because of treatment schedules
You may have low energy or fatigue that interferes with all intimate activities
Q. What should I ask my doctor?
Many patients find discussing sexuality-related concerns with the doctor (or other members of the treatment team) very helpful. Here are some suggestions for questions to ask:
Will my treatment affect my ability to have sex? If so, how long will this effect last?
Is it safe for me to have sex during the period of time that I’m in treatment?
Will my illness or treatment affect my ability to become pregnant (or father a child)?
Who else can I speak to about this topic?
Q. Should I discuss this with my partner?
Discussing experiences, feelings and concerns with your partner may be an important part of maintaining or improving your quality of life and your intimate relationships. Importantly, your partner may have his or her own concerns, such as being afraid of hurting you, feeling guilty or selfish for wanting to be intimate with you, or not knowing how to talk about his or her feelings. You may want to talk about seeking help from a professional, such as a couple’s counselor.
Q. How do I discuss this with someone I just started dating?
Your sexual health and sexuality are important whether you are in a relationship or not. If you are in a new relationship or are planning to start dating, you may be wondering how to tell someone that you have/had cancer. It may help to:
Share your story at your own pace; there's no right or wrong time to tell. However, you should probably discuss your diagnosis before there's a close emotional attachment. If the other person is uncomfortable knowing you are a survivor, there will be less heartache or conflict.
Take advantage of survivorship conferences and camps to connect with other survivors and hear their stories.
Be positive and find laughter in your life.
Q: Can you provide tips for coping with cancer or cancer-treatment effects on intimacy?
The following are some tips to help you cope:
Write love notes or simple messages in an email to remind your partner how much you love and appreciate him or her.
If needed, take medication for pain or nausea 30 to 60 minutes before intimacy. Some drugs for nausea and pain may interfere with sexual performance. Ask your oncology team about side effects, and, if needed, possible alternatives or dosing options.
Take a warm shower or bath to help relax your body.
Take a nap before intercourse to help you feel less tired.
The Information Resource Center is a team of master's level oncology social workers, nurses and health educators, who assist patients through cancer treatment. To speak one-on-one with a LLS Information Specialist call (800) 955-4572 or go to www.lls.org/irc.
World Cancer Day is February 4, when people across the globe come together to work toward reducing the global burden of cancer. An integral part of this work is scientific research that leads to innovative treatments, ultimately saving lives.
Despite promising advances in treatment, cancers are among the leading cause of disease and deaths worldwide. Cancers know no boundaries, and have devastating impacts on families across the globe.
In 2012, there were more than 900,000 new cases of blood cancers around the world. In fact, leukemia was the tenth most common cause of cancer death, and lymphomas were the seventh most common form of cancer. In the United States, blood cancers are the third leading cause of cancer-related death, behind cancers of the respiratory and digestive systems.
At The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) our mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since its inception in 1949, LLS has invested more than $1 billion in cutting-edge research to advance lifesaving treatments and cures.
On World Cancer Day, it is important to recognize the world-renowned blood cancer researchers and clinicians across the globe who work tirelessly every day to make our mission a reality. Currently, LLS is funding scientific research in eight countries around the globe, investing in breakthrough research in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and England. Here are some highlights:
In Canada, Tak Mak, Ph.D., Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network in Toronto, was recently awarded a prestigious $5 million Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant for a five-year research program, which brings together an international team of researchers across disciplines and institutions. Mak’s research team is studying mutations that cause leukemia and lymphoma to understand how they affect resistance to therapy, which will lead to new and better therapies.
In Australia, Jerry M. Adams, Ph.D., Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, leads another prestigious SCOR program. Adams and his colleagues investigate how cell death can lead to cancer when it does not function properly, and how drugs that promote cell death can improve cancer treatment. This concept has broad applications for cancer research.
Since 2002, LLS has provided $15 million to support the work of Adams and his team to advance venetoclax (Venclexta®), a treatment that was recently approved to treat patients with a high-risk form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This therapy now helps patients who otherwise did not have many treatment options. There are also clinical trials using this drug to treat patients with other types of leukemia.
In Italy, LLS supports a lead researcher in a clinical trial to study new treatments for hairy cell leukemia (HCL), a rare form of blood cancer with limited therapy options. Enrico Tiacci, M.D., University of Perugia, and his research team discovered that a genetic mutation, called BRAF, is involved in the development of HCL in almost all patients.
Tiacci’s team is studying a drug that blocks BRAF. The drug was originally developed for melanoma, an unrelated skin cancer often carrying the same mutation. The drug, vemurafenib, has already shown positive results in HCL patients who have not responded well or who have had severe side effects from chemotherapy. Now, the drug is being tested in combination with rituximab, another drug that targets leukemia cells, to provide even better results.
Across the globe, researchers are conducting pivotal work leading to innovative breakthroughs that are dramatically saving lives. Today, as we all work together toward a cure, we must continue to invest in medical research so that we can save more lives.
Like most high school seniors getting ready for college, 18-year-old Mara Hunter has been very busy preparing for her future. And all her hard work is paying off — the Olentangy Liberty High School field hockey star just earned a scholarship to play for Ohio State University next year. However, her journey has been far from easy.
A little over a year ago, Mara started having unusual symptoms, starting with her left ear. Over time, her symptoms worsened until she eventually passed out during field hockey practice. She was rushed to the hospital and had a bone marrow biopsy the next day. Just a few hours later, Mara was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Mara underwent surgery and spent 11 days in the hospital. Her road to recovery caused her to miss playing on the team her junior year, although she resumed academic classes online. There were days where she would have to take as many as 25 pills a day.
“I never thought I’d be able to play again,” Mara said. But after a courageous fight, Mara came back to the field with a vengeance the following year — winning six goals during the team’s first seven games.
Mara joined The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night walk, LLS’s inspirational fundraising walk where she served as Columbus, Ohio’s 2015 Honored Hero. In this role, she served as the face of other blood cancer patients by sharing her story with other walkers. Her friends, neighbors and classmates all came together to raise funds and show their support.
With a bright future ahead of her, Mara recently received a special visit from another shining star athlete — three-time Olympic gold-medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Mara was able to hang out with Jennings and they participated in a professional “sports-themed” photo shoot. Mara even had a chance to show Jennings some of her field hocky moves. The surprise visit which took place in Columbus, Ohio, was part of LLS’s Random Acts of Light program.
Jennings had some encouraging words for Mara: “Don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to get frustrated, work through it and you’re going to get where you want to go.”
Through Random Acts of Light, LLS brings moments of light to those touched by blood cancer. Celebrities surprise survivors with special meetings to bring light to the darkness of cancer and create awareness for the critical need to find new treatments and cures for blood cancer patients.