I think that I kind of assumed that there was an end to having cancer, you often hear people say 'when this is all over...' but I am still waiting for it to be over. It's true, cancer is no longer the first thing that I think of when I wake up in the morning, it's more like the third, and I don't look 'sick' any more but when does it all stop? Where do I hand in my letter of resignation or who do I talk to about divorcing cancer (it would be safe to say that we have irreconcilable differences)?
As I write this, I have just gotten home from a night out with 'cancer friends' and although we don't only talk about cancer, it certainly does come up. Because of our age, fertility and sex are two topics that we discuss on a regular basis, especially because having sex with one breast isn't something that all your 'home girls' are necessarily going to be able to relate to. I'm not going to go into the sex part in great detail because I think some things need to remain private but I do want to discuss a few things about it.
It's not fair for me to talk about sex when it is something shared between Keith and I. My sex life is shared with someone else so for me to blog about it isn't something I am comfortable with. However, going back to the guilt entry from a few weeks ago, I feel very guilty about not addressing sex and sexuality in my blog because I don't turn red when I'm talking about it, I don't mind getting personal and I certainly never feel embarrassed about it but sex will always be that thing that I keep off my blog. I do however want to say that difficulties with sex after cancer are endless and it takes an incredible partner to stand by your side when you're one breast down, 30 lbs up, and have a head full of cancer thoughts.
Having gone out with a number of friends (some 'old', some 'new' but all 'cancer'), it's quite evident that sex is a hot topic and no one talks about it. It's not like your oncologist says 'Ok, so your latest imaging shows that you're cancer free, treatment is over, let's book your follow-up appointment, and, oh yeah, how's your sex life now that you don't have a breast, you're bald and you've just been through the scariest time of your life?' So, you kind of have to fend for yourself.
During chemo, you're pretty much poisonous (I had to flush the toilet twice after every time I went to the washroom for at least 6 days after each chemo just in case there was residue in the toilet bowl water that could come in contact with the next person to use to toilet) - people can't even pee after I do, who wants to have sex with me? Not to mention that you have no immune system so one little (vag) infection could land you in the hospital. You have to deal with issues like vaginal atrophy during and post-chemo (a tightening of the vagina that makes it, uh, impossible to have sex) and having sex when you're one breast down - not really the sexiest I've ever felt. Sex seems to be the last thing on your mind especially during chemo - 'No, seriously, that was the last time I'm gonna puke today. I'm ready, let's do this', yeah, I don't think so! I'm not sure why a social worker isn't assigned to you to discuss issues like this. I realize sex isn't a basic need but it sure is important in a relationship! Ok, I feel like I have already written too much about sex when I said I specifically wasn't going to write about it. I do want to say that Keith and I were very lucky to be referred to the proper resources and at the cost of providing way too much information, we 'got our groove back'.
I also wanted to discuss fertility. During the night out with the girls, so much was said about 'my doctor said...' and it all seemed to be conflicting information. Keith and I have decided to try to have children naturally, no hormones, no IVF, no nothing and if we aren't blessed with children, then it wasn't meant to be. If I believe that I got breast cancer for a reason then I have to believe that I will or will not have children for a reason too.
In order to harvest eggs, I would have had to have been pumped full of hormones prior to chemo (because I have a hormone based cancer, we didn't think it was a great idea to feed the beast prior to chemo) so we skipped that. Another option was a monthly shot that shut down my ovaries to protect them from chemo. We started asking questions about that and a lot of the answers were 'Well, we don't know the effects of..." and that just wasn't good enough either so, we said 'No' to that too. Every one is different but for me and Keith, we decided that we knew what would happen if I didn't take any drugs to protect myself (infertility) but we didn't know the effects of taking the drugs (not 100% guarantee of it working, potential negative effects on my fertility, cancer recurrence, long term effects, etc.) and yet a lot of women that I know who are in the child bearing years have taken these steps to protect themselves. It makes me wonder which doctors are telling which women which information? I don't know how many times something was said about fertility where another woman would say 'I didn't know that'.
It frustrates me because how do you know what questions to ask if you know nothing about a subject? When it comes to fertility, you are faced with so many options and some times you end up chosing the option that the doctor recommends even if it's not the right choice for you; you just become so overwhelmed. I got to the point where my doctor had written a prescription and I was one day away from filing it (because that's what she said we should do) and after doing my own research, Keith and I decided not to go through with it. I am thankful every day for the additional research we did and the decision we made. Fertility treatments seem to have so many unknowns that we just weren't ready to make a decision on a recommendation versus a necessity. Oh and by the way - I got 2 periods 28 days apart, it looks like some one is 'regular'. No big deal!!
So why did I write this entry? That's a great question, thanks for asking. I think it is in hopes of starting a dialogue, I think it is to let women know that although they may feel alone when it comes to having no sex-drive in their 20s and 30s, it is totally normal post-chemo, post-cancer, and I think it's to give a shout out to all the partners who patiently wait for us to 'get our groove back.'