Newsweek

Life-Saving Cancer Treatments Wreak Havoc on Intimacy

More than 15.5 million Americans are alive today with a history of cancer, but at least 60% suffer long-term sexual problems post-treatment.
David Stanley and Rebekah Robbins, both of Sheffield, England, kiss after being married at the Empire State Building in New York, on February 14, 2007. Robbins met Stanley on the internet after she started her fight with breast cancer, for which she continues treatment.
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Wearing only stretchy blue briefs, David Fuehrer posed for the camera with one beefy arm flexed over his head, the other clenched in front of his chest. T hick muscles and veins rippled under his tan, hairless skin, and there was a tense smirk on his face. It was 2001, and Fuehrer, then 25, was just a few days away from winning the light heavyweight title at the Natural New York State Bodybuilding Championship.

Four months later, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. “It stripped away all of my male identity,” says Fuehrer, now 40, whose treatment left him impotent for nearly a year. “Impotency to a guy is so much more than your thing doesn’t function. It’s like, you’re not a man. How do you say to people, ‘I’m not a man’?”

When people first hear those three words—“You have cancer”—they’re thrust into an alternate reality where the only thing that’s certain is just how uncertain their future is. How long will I live? If I die, what will happen to my children and loved ones? How painful will treatment be? Will I lose my hair? Get fat? Need a double mastectomy? Will I be able to have kids? There are so many important and charged topics for patients to discuss with their doctors that sexuality is often pretty low on the list of concerns.

It shouldn’t be.

“The cure isn’t enough,” says Fuehrer, a former research consultant at Pfizer and GE who now sits on the board of directors for Stupid Cancer, a nonprofit focusing on young adult cancer. “Just the fact that more people are living, that’s wonderful, but more people are living with really awful stuff they now have to deal with.”

Cancer is a ruthless, nefarious disease, and oncologists are vigilant about shrinking cancers and preventing their spread. In other words, extending life. But these treatments often bring with them a horror show of sexual side effects, from impotence to vaginal shrinkage and dryness. There are also the emotional ramifications patients, their partners and families endure. At least 60 percent of cancer survivors suffer from long-term sexual problems, and fewer than 20 percent get the help they need to lead fulfilling sex lives, says Leslie Schover, a clinical psychologist who’s one of the pioneers in helping cancer survivors navigate sexual

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