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LIVE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE WITH CANCER /// CHAPTER 53
Protect your partner from potential chemo exposure
There is not great data on how much chemotherapy gets
into a woman's vaginal fluids or if this poses a risk for a
sexual partner. Chemotherapy can be excreted in body
secretions for 48-72 hours after a treatment. If this is
a concern for you and your partner, you should use a
condom whenever your partner may come in contact with
your body fluids.
Protect yourself from infection
Certain treatments can cause low blood cell counts which
increase your risk for infection. You could be at higher risk
for yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and others.
Additionally, if you or your partner have sex with multiple
partners, and you don't use barrier devices, you're at risk
for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some of the
ways to help prevent infection:
» Wash your hands and genitals before and after having
vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
» Consider using a condom or a dental dam each time
you have vaginal, oral or anal sex throughout your
treatment, even if you're using another form of birth
control.
» If you use sex toys, wash them with hot soapy water
every time you use them.
» The risk of infection is quite high receiving anal sex
with low counts. If this is a difficult limitation for you,
discuss this issue with your healthcare provider.
» In some situations, your doctor may recommend for
you to avoid sex that involves penetration or contact
with mucous membranes while your blood counts
are low. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex or
inserting fingers, vibrators, or sex toys into your vagina
or anus. Ask your physician if there is a platelet or
white count they consider a threshold for any sexual
activity.
" How can I be more physically
comfortable? "
» Chemotherapy and radiation to the pelvis may cause
your vagina to become dry and irritated. This may cause
pain during vaginal sex and lead to infection. If you have
vaginal discomfort, use a condom with a water-based
lubricant and/or vaginal moisturizers and lubricants to
help with vaginal dryness. You may also want to avoid
vaginal sex until your tissues heal.
» Some women develop vaginal yeast infections during
treatment, especially if they are taking steroids
or antibiotics. Symptoms include vaginal itching,
irritation, and white and lumpy discharge (like cottage
cheese). If you think you have a yeast infection, avoid
sexual activity and call your doctor.
» If you had surgery involving the pelvic area or your
mouth, you may need to allow extra time for healing
before having sex that involves penetration (with
penis, fingers, toys, vibrators or dilators) or oral sex.
» Think outside the box about sexual activity - it
does not have to involve intercourse or oral sex. Use
kissing, touching, caressing to satisfy each other.
» Cancer surgery may result in a particular position
being painful. Try different positions to find what is
best for you and your partner.
» Pelvic physical therapy is for women facing pelvic
pain, incontinence, or sexual functioning issues.
Talk with your doctor about a referral to a physical
therapist specializing in this.
" It should all be working, but I am
struggling emotionally "
Sexual intimacy does not always end in orgasm and
resolution. If you are trying to improve sexual satisfaction
or re-engage in sexual behavior, you may want to start
slow.
Focus on using lots of physical touch with your partner,
covering areas you are not comfortable exposing just
yet. Allow yourself to enjoy sexual desire and excitement
without the pressure of getting to an " endpoint. " Allow
yourself to enjoy the journey. Connect with your partner(s)
simply exploring with touch, and work back up to having
sex over a period of a few weeks. Get comfortable again
with your body and your partner(s).
During this process of exploring your body with your
partner, you may notice negative thoughts about yourself,
your body image, and the way your body is functioning.
It is important to understand these thoughts and gently
re-engage your attention in the physical sensations. You
may need to do this many times while being intimate.
Try to ease your worries by turning your attention back
to physical pleasure in the moment. A safe and caring
relationship allows for the chance to explore your
sexuality during cancer. Make sure you are exploring your
body with someone you can trust and be open with.
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What Do I Do Now?

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