by Marlene and Bob Neufeld
Studies have demonstrated increased survival for married people diagnosed with cancer over single people. On the other hand, a cancer diagnosis can be emotionally hard on both the person with the diagnosis and the spouse, as well as threaten the relationship. Any unresolved patterns or issues between couples will be exacerbated by stress, and a cancer diagnosis is a huge stress.
We are a couple who work as a therapist team helping couples create closer loving connections. One of the important ways couples connect is through their sexuality. When Bob was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 we used all the skills we taught other couples to ensure that our sexual relationship stayed strong throughout the cancer journey.
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…”
Comments from Jennifer Luce, Living with Cancer
by Lillie D Shockney, RN., BS., MAS
Breast cancer remains the most feared disease of all women. There are perhaps many reasons for this however a compelling one is the fact that sexuality and body image are known to be psychologically connected to women’s breasts. Altering them by the required surgical interventions needed to treat breast cancer can cause tremendous anxiety and concern. Additionally, there are still women alive today who have endured a Halsted radical mastectomy, which was truly a debilitating and disfiguring surgical procedure for breast cancer treatment for more than a century. This procedure was commonly performed immediately following a surgical breast biopsy performed on the patient in the operating room with general anesthesia. The surgeon would send the biopsy specimen to pathology while the woman remained asleep. If it was positive for cancer then he would proceed in doing a Halsted radical mastectomy which included the removal of the entire breast, both pectoral major and minor muscles, scraping the ribs, and dissecting all of the lymph nodes in the armpit area, down to the lung cavity area. No reconstruction was performed. It was also common to need to take skin from her back or buttocks to be able to close the chest wound. The patient would awaken in the recovery room to then learn that she had breast cancer and that her breast and underlying anatomic tissues were gone.