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Let's Talk About Sex

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Published on February 19, 2020

Key Takeaways

Sex can be a difficult topic for women with cancer—especially when you're focused on getting the right treatment—but it’s natural to have concerns or questions about sexuality throughout your journey. 

Michele Nadeem-Baker and Rebecca Seago-Coyle sit down to talk about their experience as cancer survivors with the uncomfortable, albeit important, conversations on sexual health with their doctors. Watch to hear their perspectives on survivorship, intimacy and changes after cancer treatment.

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Transcript | Let's Talk About Sex

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:     

This is Michele Nadeem-Baker with Patient Power, and today we’re going to try something a little bit new. And I have with me Patient Power’s Content Director, Rebecca Seago-Coyle. And we just wanted to share with you as we’re both cancer survivors—different kinds of cancers. As you know, I had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and I’m now in remission. Becca is a breast cancer survivor.

And we were chatting the other day, and we realized that people just feel really weird about talking about sex when they have cancer. It’s like during treatment, after treatment, before treatment, it’s like that which no one shall talk about, and we thought you might like to hear about this. Becca?

Rebecca Seago-Coyle:         

Hi. Yes, I remember when I was diagnosed almost 10 years ago with breast cancer, one of the topics that came up was because I was estrogen-positive, removing my ovaries. And at the time they had said, “By doing this, you’ll be going into menopause.” And my first thought was, “Okay. I won’t ever have to worry about buying another box of tampons.” But what they didn’t really tell me is the effects it would have on my sex life. And at 35, going through menopause, I’ll be honest, it was not a fun thing. And even now, it’s a little bit more challenging.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:     

I know personally when I—so I had a combination treatment, chemotherapy, and oral burton—a BTK inhibitor, basically. And there are so many things in addition to the chemicals going through your body as well that are going through your mind at the same time. And also, the thoughts of I have cancer. There are so many things that I found personally that are going on as well.

And I remember when I was reading the clinical trial materials saying this could potentially throw you into early menopause. Basically, it may. It may not. You don’t know. Then I was like I don’t even know what that will feel like. Maybe I’m already in it anyway, and I don’t know. I have no clue.

So, the fear was there, I have to say, and things definitely changed. And again, it could have been the treatment. It could be age. It could be both. But I found that you really have to learn some things to do that help. Now, did your oncologist ever bring this up to you or talk to you about it? 

Rebecca Seago-Coyle:         

I don’t really recall. However, I do recall at the end of all my treatment, I actually met with a survivorship nurse who went through everything that I’d gone through. And luckily, she was also a breast cancer survivor herself. And so, she—we actually had a very open and honest conversation with each other, and she gave me some really great tips.

One of the things she talked to me about was lube. And there are like a million kinds of different lubes out there, and so which one should you use? And at the time, I was living in the Seattle area, and this particular lube, I think, is actually manufactured somewhere close there. And it’s called Sliquid. It’s a funny name. And now, actually, Amazon sells it, so it’s very nice and convenient to go onto Amazon and replenish the lube to make sure that my husband and I can have a good relationship with each other. 

Michele Nadeem-Baker:                 

So, let me get this straight, your oncology nurse brought it up and asked you, or did you ask her?

Rebecca Seago-Coyle:         

I think she probably brought it up. Because I think she was like, “You’re going into menopause, and here are some things you should keep in mind.” And it was interesting, because that was after I had already had my ovaries removed, and no one had really, really gone into detail of what that means.

I mean, I think to be clear, most people know what menopause is. We know that it typically happens older in life, and there are hormonal changes in your body. But when you’re medically induced with menopause, you kind of get into that—as my oncologist later mentioned, yes, we’ve skyrocketed you into menopause. And it is an adjustment.

So, we did eventually have conversations about it, but not necessarily right in the beginning.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:     

My oncologist never brought it up. My oncology nurse didn’t bring it up. My team didn’t bring it up. But I didn’t either. I never asked. Because I have to admit, I know it’s hard to believe this about me, but I was shy about bringing it up. And I also thought that maybe it was something in my mind. Or maybe I have a blood cancer, so how can that even be involved? Never mind that I was under treatment. I just kept thinking, “Well, you know, it shouldn’t be that bad for me.”

I had a friend at the time who had lung cancer. She would tell me horrifying things about herself, and I didn’t have that. And I thought, “You know; I shouldn’t have anything, because it’s not like I’ve had to have anything removed. Or it’s not like one particular place in my body.” So, I just kept thinking, “Yeah, I’m not even going to bring it up.”

And that’s silly, because we all should be bringing that up if we’re wondering about it. And that’s when it can become a problem when you wonder about it too much and don’t know. 

Rebecca Seago-Coyle:         

It’s funny that we don’t bring it up. It’s not necessarily something that we talk to our doctors about all the time. We’ll talk to our girlfriends about it or something. It’s different when it becomes a medical thing.

And so, for me, actually just having that conversation with my doctor, like, “This is happening. Is this normal?” Because when you told me I was going to go into menopause, and you said I was going to get hot flashes, and maybe my desire was going to go down, I actually thought that’s not going to happen to me.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:                 

We’d love to know what all of you think out there about have you had any issues with sex since your diagnosis or during treatment or after treatment. Please let us know. We’d love to hear from you. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for joining me today. 

 Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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