Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sex and Chemo

I smell sex and chemo here
Who's that lounging in my chair
Who's that casting devious stares
In my direction
Mama this surely is a dream
with apologies to Marcy Playground

During one of my last visits during chemo, the oncology nurse asked how my sex life was. What I should have said as I suspect almost everyone else says, was
But no, I said it was not fine. I said I felt absolutely nothing, no desire, no pleasure, no nothing.
She looked alarmed so I am guessing everyone else must answer that there are no problems. She suggested that she give me a referral for some type of counselor who I guess would talk me into loving sex again. I passed on that.
She didn't offer a referral for a counselor to talk me into growing more hair.The lack of hair distressed me just as much.

What would have been helpful was a reminder that this too shall pass.

Did I discuss this with Steve? How do you tell your husband that you don't desire him any more? Repeating over and over, it's not you, it's me. But it wasn't me. I wasn't me. I was changed. I didn't tell him a thing. He was waiting on me hand and foot. I wasn't going to deny him some loving or make him feel bad.

We are warned ahead of time that chemo kills most fast growing cells along with the cancer cells. The most life threatening is the lack of new white cells though the Neulasta stimulates new white blood production. The red cells die off so we are anemic and in some cases, though not with the usual breast cancer drugs, our platelets take a hit so we are at risk of bleeding  to death. We are told that we will lose our hair and not just the stuff growing on top of our head. The mucus linings of our digestive tract will not be replaced regularly.

But so much else is stopped that we are not warned about. Oil gland production stops, apocrine glands cease to work (a good thing), digestive enzymes are not regularly replaced. So many chemicals that the body routinely makes are not made for the duration. I  assume this includes all the chemicals responsible for human desire. Younger women's cycles completely stop, sometimes never to resume.

I was reminded of this recently as I listened to an old NPR show on testosterone  We all have it, even women, and it is a key chemical for desire. They aired several stories; one of a man whose testosterone levels for some medical reason, dropped to zero and another person's level was twice that of a usual man. both were surprised how much of their thought processes were altered due to differing levels of this hormone, not just their sex drive (which also was greatly impacted). They were surprised that so much of what they believed to be intrinsic to their being depended on chemicals. Interestingly, the testosterone poisoned person suddenly became interested in science.

Yeah true I was having trouble loving my pale, puffy hairless self with the bloody snotsicles constantly streaming from my nose and I did feel crummy most of the time but I don't think it was my suddenly bad attitude that interfered with my desire, it was a lack of a whole chain of neurochemicals and hormones and no bunch of talking were going to bring them back.

But things pass and most of everything came back, which is my message to you going through chemo.

One 'blessing' of triple negative breast cancer is that  while anti-estrogen drugs won't do us any good, they won't do us any bad either. I've heard that life on Tamoxifen pretty much sucks all of the pleasure from sex. And although chemo lasted 4 months for me, being on anti-estrogens can last 5 years and now they are thinking 10 years might be best.

Our beautiful spring is now on hold. Cold, rain and wind have returned.


Teri Bernstein said... might consider writing an article about this for AARP if not some scholarly journal. This is profound and important...

AnneMarie Ciccarella said...

This is such an important topic and one that is almost never discussed. I recall a doctor once saying to a group of us... (he was addressing other doctors).... "If your patients aren't expressing issues with their sex lives, YOU aren't asking the right questions."

Thank you for writing this...



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