ADVERTISEMENT

Finding Sensuality After Cancer

After breast cancer, clinical sexologist Sueann Mark, PhD, developed a program to help survivors regain their sexuality after cancer.

BY KATHY LATOUR
PUBLISHED THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2010
After her diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer, clinical sexologist Sueann Mark, PhD, began looking for information about cancer and its effects on sexuality. “I didn’t find much on the topic, and one of the nurses said that maybe that was what I was supposed to do.”

Mark developed STEPS (Sexual Transformation & Empowerment Program for Survivors) to help cancer patients and survivors open up to the possibility of sexuality after cancer and enhance the senses.  

Cancer complicates sexuality because there is a new body that is completely different, Mark says, adding that the top three issues she addresses in the cancer population are body image, vaginal dryness, and lack of libido. For women there is also fear, which inhibits orgasm.

Mark, who was diagnosed at age 34 in 2006, says the challenges in discussing sexual issues among survivors are similar to those in the general population “because we are socialized not to talk about sex and to not know what feels good.”

“We also live in a pleasure-phobic society,” Mark says. “So, what I focus on is developing healthy sensuality.”

Mark has created the ABCs of healthy sex, which she encourages cancer patients to adopt.

“ 'A' stands for adapt,” she says, explaining that cancer means adapting to a new body, a new emotional state and perhaps a new relationship. “Physically and psychologically, it means adapting to where you are now.”

“B” stands for broadening your definition of sex to include sensuality—opening up to all the senses, whether it be enjoying chocolate cake, art, music, movies, walking or any other activity that involves the senses. “Give each other a massage, take a bath, hold hands,” Mark recommends.

“C” stands for communicate. “Work sex into everyday conversation,” Mark says. “Hollywood gives us ways to talk about sex with all the scandals. Start creating a vocabulary in your relationship, and once you have the words, you can talk about it. Don’t talk in bed, but start talking,” she emphasizes. “‘What do you want? What do you like?’ Talk about it—with the understanding that it may change.”

She compared it to preparing food for your spouse. “If I am going to make a meal for you, I need to know if you have allergies and what you like and don’t like and how you like it presented: Do you like fast food or a five-course meal? Do you like spicy food? It’s a sensual connection.”

For those in treatment, Mark recommends maintaining as much sexual activity as you are comfortable with. “It’s like a hot water heater,” Mark explains. “It has a pilot light and you need to keep it lit. If you don’t, the water gets cold and it takes a long time to warm it up. If it stays lit, you’ll be ready for that hot shower.”   

ADVERTISEMENT
Related Articles
Chemobrain—It’s Real, It’s Complex, and the Science Is Still Evolving
BY SUSAN KRIGEL, PHD
Talk with almost any cancer survivor, and he or she is likely to bring up the topic of “chemobrain,” that fuzzy, murky state that patients blame for impaired memory. A review of the research shows how we're focusing on the problem.
“Cross-Pollination” of Breast Cancer Knowledge was Encouraged at SABCS
BY DEBU TRIPATHY, MD
While science sometimes moves forward in quantum leaps, it more often advances in small steps, and this year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium demonstrated both sides of that coin.
Dating, Love, Sex ... and Cancer
I went into dating after cancer with one goal, a decent date, and I got far more than I ever dreamed.
Is Radiation Therapy in Early-Stage Breast Cancer Always Necessary?
BY FRANK A. VICINI, MD
Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have a variety of decisions to make regarding treatment, but it's important for patients to realize all of their options when making those medical decisions.
Ibrance Approved for Metastatic Breast Cancer
BY SILAS INMAN
The anticipated approval of Ibrance (palbociclib) came two months ahead of expectations, as the FDA granted an accelerated approval to the drug as a frontline treatment for women with ER-positive, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer.
Related Videos
Joan Lunden Discusses the Physical and Emotional Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment
Journalist Joan Lunden shares her experience with breast cancer, side effects and working through treatment.
Journalist Joan Lunden Discusses Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Roy Firestone interviews longtime journalist, author and television host Joan Lunden on her recent breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Breast Oncologist Beth Overmoyer Explains Results of Ovarian Suppression
Beth Overmoyer, a breast oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, speaks on the results of the SOFT trial and its potential impact on young women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
SABCS: Debu Tripathy Discusses Hormonal Therapy Advances in Breast Cancer
Debu Tripathy reports on recent studies involving hormone therapy in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Follow Up Study Data Draws Attention to Benefit, Side Effects of Adjuvant Chemotherapy in Breast Cancer
Debu Tripathy,editor-in-chief of CURE magazine, explains the importance of chemotherapy studies presented at the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, including new data on the impact of side effects.
Recent Publications
  • photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
  • photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
ADVERTISEMENT
$auto_registration$