by Anne Katz, PhD, RN
This Monthly Survivorship Series, written by CKN Survivorship Editor, Anne Katz, is provided by CKN with permission from ONS. We hope this series will become a useful resource that will help to facilitate dialogue between cancer patients, their loved ones and their physicians with a view towards improving the quality of life for cancer survivors.
I am a certified-sexuality counselor at a large cancer center in Winnipeg, Manitoba. People I meet (who are not oncology care providers) often ask if it is difficult to work with people with cancer. “It must be so sad,” they say. “How do you handle it when your patients die?” As others: “You must be so brave…”
Every day one or more patients come to my office, seeking help with a sexual problem. There is usually a partner or spouse in tow, some looking terrified (what is she going to do?), while others just look embarrassed. I ask questions, they talk, I listen. And then we figure it out — or rather they often figure it out together. And I sit there and marvel at the human spirit.
When a patient starts thinking about being sexual again after the long journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment, it is very much a survivorship issue. Most couples are willing to put sex (in its broadest form) on the back burner for the many months of active treatment. But when that is over, sex becomes important again. And there are often issues: body parts that are missing and erections that won’t happen or don’t last. Things often don’t act, react, and feel the same.
I have been doing this work for almost 12 years and I can truly say that this is the best nursing I have ever done. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded how amazing it is to do this work. It has led to six books, countless articles, and many speaking engagements. But that is just the icing on the cake. After more than 25 years in nursing, I have found my passion, and it feeds my soul each and every day. How lucky am I?