Cancer. The very word makes most people shudder.
It comes in all different forms. It comes with all kinds of journeys. For some it is quick, for some it is a battle to the end. There are so many different and unique experiences for those who are diagnosed with cancer and no matter how cancer affects you; there isn’t a rulebook for how it will touch your emotions.
My time with cancer was easier than most as far as the treatment plan. I had major surgery but other than that I did not have to take invasive drugs, chemotherapy, radiation, or anything else. The initial diagnosis of course was scary and emotional but once I understood what I was dealing with and I felt the peace and comfort of my God and had the rally of family and friends behind me I felt brave and strong and knew I could get through whatever was ahead. What I didn’t expect was that almost a year later I would be having a harder time processing my emotions through the aftermath of cancer than I did in the midst of it.
I have now had 3 gynecological surgeries, a handful of CT scans (with rectal contrast.. yes it is as horrible as it sounds), hours and hours and hours spent in gynecologist and oncologist offices, too many transvaginal ultrasounds to even start to count, invasive procedures that I wasn’t warned about, the presence of medical students without my permission during awkward procedures, and so on and so forth.
Something they don’t talk to you about when you’re going through cancer is how it will impact your sexuality. At least nobody talked to me about it. Every time I go in for one of these invasive procedures (and for me they are in very intimate regions…) I put on a brave face as if it’s just totally normal, I can tell if an ultrasound tech or nurse is uncomfortable and I usually say something like “oh I’ve had so many of these, no worries, it’s all good.” I think I hardened myself from feeling the actual real and vulnerable feelings that come with hundreds of people needing to be all up in your business to keep you healthy on a regular basis.
I first started noticing that anything to do with sexual intimacy (with my beloved husband, people) sounded like a big fat nah, not interested, no thank you, eh maybe another time, hmm thanks but no thanks, pretty much every single time starting pretty quickly after I was deemed healthy enough to…ya know. I hated feeling that way; I constantly felt guilty and confused, what is wrong with me?! I am young and in love and everything around me says I should be feeling my best and having the time of my life! Months passed and the same feelings or really lack of feelings in regards to sex were still sitting with me. I had another round of scans and exams and something happened that was incredibly uncomfortable and I came back from that appointment enlightened as to why I had ZERO sex drive, ZERO interest in anything in regards to physical intimacy…. I sat down with my husband and poured out my heart and emotions for the first time on how hard it is to be so physically vulnerable all of the time with doctors; everything that to me is reserved for beautiful private intimacy was now just routine this and that. I had become so numb or tried to become numb to all of the doctor’s visits and tests, etc. that I lost my sexuality all together. My husband put it into words that made perfect sense “you must feel as if you have been robbed of your sexuality.” This made the tears flow even more to be so validated by the one I love most.
I am not writing this today because I have it all figured out now. I am writing this today for a few reasons: 1) I felt all alone. I thought I must be the only one struggling with sex after cancer. I am writing this to you ladies who have had gynecological cancers, breast cancer, or any cancer that has required you to constantly bare yourself to so many people that you did not ever so desire to be a part of your most intimate parts. If you struggle with this too, you are not alone. 2) To encourage you to start a dialogue with your spouse, partner, whoever is that person in your life; it doesn’t have to be about this struggle in particular, just anything in general that is hard for you right now. You don’t have to keep it in. If anything the discussion will likely be liberating as you invite someone you trust into your struggle. Starting this conversation for me opened the door to finally working through it. 3) Vulnerability is so important. I think it truly does change the world to share your story, even when it might feel embarrassing to do so. I didn’t know if I would ever share this and I didn’t really want to, but I know that sharing this might help someone else even if it is just to know they are not alone and that they can get through a hard circumstance.
As stated earlier this issue isn’t solved, fixed, blown away all together- but I feel in a much better place with it. This is now a normal conversation with my husband. I am now able to comfortably and freely discuss it with him because I invited him in to the struggle and he kindly chose to walk alongside me in this. We pray about it. We give our burdens to the Lord and he helps to heal. I’ve shared this burden with multiple people in my life that I trust and I know they have been praying for me too. Also, this has opened up real, honest, and beautiful dialogue with other women who struggle with sexual intimacy for a variety of really hard reasons. It has been SO healing to have heart to hearts with other ladies who get it and it reminds me that I am not alone. We can love and support each other through this.
Now that I have shared one of the most awkward, (I guess it doesn’t have to be awkward) intimate things I will probably ever share on my blog… I will choose to go forward, I will choose to continue to find healing, I will continue to share my story. I am not alone in my struggle and you are not either. I’ll end with a quote from the ever so wise Brene Brown ““Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”