Recently in Survivorship Category

sexual intimacy in cancer patients

By Clayton Boldt

Sexual intimacy problems are one of the most common long-term side effects that cancer patients face. In a survey of MD Anderson cancer patients, almost half of men and women said they had new sexual intimacy problems after treatment. Common sexual intimacy problems include:

  • Erection problems in men
  • Vaginal dryness and pain in women
  • Loss of sexual desire

Below, Leslie Schover, Ph.D., professor in Behavioral Science and Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, answers common questions about sexual problems affecting cancer patients and how to address them.

Why do cancer patients often experience sexual side effects?

A major cause of these issues is physical damage or changes from cancer treatment. Radiation or surgery in the pelvic area can make sex painful or difficult, and may damage blood vessels or nerves critical for male performance.

In women, chemotherapy may cause premature menopause, and hormone therapies can be linked to pain during sex.

Stephanie_madsen 611.jpgBy Stephanie Madsen

Three years after my large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I've defied the odds. The statistics gave me less than a 20% chance of surviving one year.

But I have yet to make it an entire year without cancer. I've hit the three-month mark and have even made it to eight months cancer-free. Soon, I'll lie on the cold, hard, metallic table while a machine takes pictures of my insides from head to toe. Then, I'll wait for my results. I'm hoping this time I'll be able to say I've been cancer-free for a whole year.

Praying to remain cancer-free
Once I learned that my life was not guaranteed, my prayers were taken to new heights. 

Have you ever had a prayer so desperate it crashed loudly in the torrential storm of your spirit? A plea so full of depth, it couldn't be given an audible voice? One equally full of hope and fear? Lately, my prayers have been carnal cries or petitions that bring me to my knees.

Not one of my prayers ends without the utterance of a plea to remain cancer-free for the rest of my life here on Earth. I ask for my dreams to come to fruition.

"I'd love to grow old with my husband. Please allow me to experience motherhood. I want to watch my children grow into adults and have their own children. I ask that I live until I'm wrinkled, hard of hearing and gray."

Truth be told, I'm desperate.

linda69.jpgBy Linda Ryan

It's been almost four years since my cervical cancer recurrence, but my two sons, Matthew (17) and Ethan (13), never traveled with me to MD Anderson until my check-up last month. I planned my appointment over their spring break so we could fit in a few college visits in Texas. I knew it might be emotionally difficult for them to go to MD Anderson. So, I did my best to handle the visit the same way I handled my treatment. I tried to let them see and feel my confidence.

Not only were we there for my appointment, but they joined me on the visits with all of the wonderful people I've have met in Houston through my journey. Both boys agreed that it was cool to see my home away from home.
How our visit affected my sons

After our visit, I gave Matthew and Ethan a few weeks to digest the emotions associated with going my oncology appointment before asking them a few questions separately about the experience. They both agreed that MD Anderson was not what they expected.

They were both surprised and saddened by how many people -- of all ages, races and genders -- were treated at MD Anderson. Matthew said being there made him sad because he knew what the families he saw were going through. 

62donislaine.jpgBy Donis Laine

My meningioma story began on a sunny and hot afternoon with a bright blue, cloudless sky.  
As I crossed a parking lot, I looked up, closed one eye and noticed that the sky seemed dark and grey. Then, I closed my left eye. The sky looked bright blue. I closed my right eye again and saw grey. I made an appointment with my optometrist the following Monday.

My meningioma diagnosis
It turned out that the problem wasn't in my eye. It was behind my eye. My optometrist sent me to a neuro-ophthalmologist. 

After an MRI and other tests, I got my diagnosis -- meningioma, a noncancerous tumor, on my optic nerve. The doctor said the tumor was inoperable and recommended targeted radiation.

Because meningioma is slow-growing, the doctor also recommended waiting a month for another MRI.

5ways_socialwork.pngWhether you're a patient or a caregiver, cancer treatment is stressful. But our social work counselors can help.

At MD Anderson, each patient is assigned to a social work counselor. These licensed clinical social workers help patients, their family and friends cope with cancer. They also can help you deal with psychological or social concerns you face during and after treatment.

Here are a few ways our social work counselors can help.

052014_tbt_survivorshipButtons_0020.jpgBy Amanda Swennes

At MD Anderson, we define cancer patients as cancer survivors on the day they're diagnosed. We consider family, caregivers and friends survivors, too. To celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, June 7, we're hosting a week of entertainment and educational activities to honor those who are living with, through and beyond cancer.

Join us June 1-7

Patients, survivors and caregivers can join myCancerConnection for a Day Away to a Houston Astros game or an evening with the Houston Grand Opera. We'll have daily OncWalks on the skybridge, two resource fairs, a Couples Coping with Cancer Together panel and several educational workshops on topics dedicated specifically to issues surrounding survivorship. You can even get a free massage. Special events are also happening at our locations in Katy, Sugar Land, Bay Area and The Woodlands.

How survivors benefit from Survivorship Week

Here's what previous participants had to say about Survivorship Week:

"I went to the Day Away at the Houston Astros baseball game last year and had a great time. I went by myself because my husband was out of town, so I wasn't sure how much fun it would be. But I ended up watching the game and talking with a wonderful breast cancer survivor and her delightful children.  

For me, that's the fun of these events. I love meeting others who have their own MD Anderson experience to share. I always learn something, and, in this case, the lady I met was vibrant, had such a positive outlook on life (something that she says was a byproduct of her experience with breast cancer), and just a lovely person to get to know. I wish we'd stayed in touch!"-- Rachel Cruz, melanoma survivor

drew514.jpgWhen I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I immediately had a lot of questions. I needed to know what I was up against.  Personally, I wanted to know the basics: What stage was my cancer? What's the game plan? I didn't want statistics. I wanted to know what we needed to do to beat it, and I wanted to get started.

I wasn't the only one with questions. My friends and family had several as well. Below are some of the most common questions I received after my colorectal cancer diagnosis.

How did you know you had colorectal cancer?
I didn't know. I had been battling Crohn's disease for 10 years, and the symptoms of Crohn's are very similar to that of colorectal cancer. I assumed my recent increase in bowel movements and loose stools were just a Crohn's flare-up. I finally went to the emergency room after I'd started to experience pain and more blood in my stool. A colonoscopy and blood work confirmed I had cancer.

What was your colorectal cancer treatment?

My colorectal cancer treatment consisted of 28 days of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery. The initial tumor was found in my rectum, so I had to undergo radiation before the doctors removed my large intestines.  

I had radiation every weekday morning and took oral chemo medication (Xeloda) on the same day. I took the weekends off, then returned on Mondays for the next dose.  The radiation was tough on my body. I threw up every morning, and my body ached after the seventh treatment or so. After I completed the radiation, I rested for nearly two months. After that, had surgery.  

Once they removed my colon and rectum, my care team discovered 18 separate tumors in my colon. The cancer also had spread to 22 of the 118 lymph nodes they'd removed. Because of this, they started me on a four-month chemo regiment.

Each Monday, I went to the clinic to begin the two-day treatment of two drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) and Oxaliplatin for four to six hours on Monday mornings, I had my premeds and initial dose of chemo. Once I'd completed this infusion, they connected me to a pump that dripped over 36 hours. This allowed me to stay at home for the second chemo medication. On Wednesday mornings, I returned to have the pump disconnected and my port flushed.  After 10 to 12 days off, I started another round. I did a total of eight rounds.

513kayce.jpgBy Kayce Smith

I got the call on my 25th birthday. "Kayce," my dermatologist said. "You have stage one melanoma. You need to go to MD Anderson for cancer treatment."

I never thought I'd be facing a melanoma diagnosis -- or any kind of cancer, for that matter. And I certainly didn't expect to be a young adult cancer survivor.

Most of the time when people approached me after hearing about my melanoma diagnosis, they said things like:

  • "Wow, you are so young ..."
  • "How are your parents dealing with it?"
  • "Will you have help financially? If you need extra support, please don't hesitate to call."

511Sabrina.jpgBy Sabrina Dominguez

I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?

It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.

But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.

Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.

Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.

Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them.

anna jackson.jpgBy Anna Masten Jackson

My husband and I recently made the familiar journey to MD Anderson again. It was time for another check-up. Since I was diagnosed with stage four  thymoma in 2013, this has become a normal part of our life. We do labs and scans, and then prayerfully meet with doctors, hoping for good news.

These trips always remind me of the frightening reality of cancer. On days like these, I reflect on the lessons I have learned from cancer.  There have been so many. They help calm me as I face my appointments.

Lately, I've been focusing a lot on being thankful. I've come to realize that for me, it's not a feeling. It's a choice.

Finding light in the dark times
One of the biggest things I have learned is that thankfulness leads me out of the fear and darkness cancer can bring. As soon as I begin to look for the blessings around me, the darkness fades a little. When I choose to be thankful, my focus shifts and the burden gets a little lighter. I may not FEEL thankful, but when I choose to BE thankful, I find strength for the trial.

carolinebrown56.jpgBy Caroline Brown

In 2012, my husband and I moved back to Texas from New York City. We were excited to be back in our home state and ready to start a family. Breast cancer, infertility and finding a surrogate were not part of our plans.

My breast cancer diagnosis
I remember like it was yesterday. One night in the shower, I stumbled upon a lump on my left breast. I knew it was not supposed to be there.

I called the doctor the next morning. After a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, I learned that I had stage two ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. I was stunned. I was young -- 30 years old -- with no family history of breast cancer. I had recently had my annual exam and thought I was healthy.

Learning about infertility during cancer treatment
I already knew of MD Anderson's reputation. Since it was in my new hometown of Houston, I made an appointment there right away.

michele51.jpgBy Michele Longabough

Since my own stage four anal cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have done plenty of reading surrounding what not to say to someone with a stage four cancer diagnosis. Through these articles, I've noticed the list can be quite extensive. After all, there are so many types of cancers and personalities.

But the top comments that seem to appear over and again include, but are not limited to:

  • "You can beat this!"
  • "Everything will OK!"
  • "If you pray and believe enough, God will heal you!"
  • "_____ can cure you!"

Sometimes, the wrong words just come out
Trust me when I say this: I have heard it all. And yes, some of the things that people said to me after my anal cancer diagnosis hurt my feelings.

But after thinking about why anybody would say such things, I thought about what I would say if I were faced with a close friend's diagnosis. I knew I, too, would say the wrong things.


Connect on social media

Sign In