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Survivorship Series: Sexuality = A Survivorship Issue

annekatzby 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?


Cancer and Sexuality

The Intimacy of Cancer

Sex and Cancer:  Breaking the Taboo


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One Response to Survivorship Series: Sexuality = A Survivorship Issue

  1. Pingback: Cancer and Sexuality | Cancer Knowledge Network

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