Intimacy And  Blood Cancer

Hearing the words “you have blood cancer” sent chills up and down my spine. Soon after that, the same cold chill impacted every facet of my future life, including any emotional or physical interactions with my now late-wife. To say that our relationship was put on the back burner after I broke the news would be an understatement. At that point, we had been married for over 50 years. And as it happens with many couples over time, the initial flames of passion from 5 decades earlier had now settled into a bed of glowing embers.

Serious illnesses affect physical relationships

The blood cancer diagnosis was not the first run-in with cancer. Years earlier, I had been diagnosed and treated twice for an aggressive prostate cancer. Not only did I receive the third dose of the not-so-good cancer news, but I also learned my treatment protocol would be months of chemotherapy combined with the need to have a port installed. Of course, no visitors would be allowed into the treatment center to help pass the 8-hour infusion sessions due to masking requirements and COVID restrictions.

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A strong bond until the end

Though we had not been intimate for some time, due to numerous health issues on both sides,  the bond and commitment were strong enough to support each other emotionally during the many months of chemo. Then almost to the day 6 months after my final chemo treatment was completed, my wife passed suddenly and unexpectedly one Sunday morning. The resulting chill due to many emotional and physical challenges hit hard and put all thoughts of any future physical relationships into a deep freezer.

Developing new bonds

With time I slowly began to interact more freely with friends and family. Then by pure chance, I happened to meet a recently widowed woman who had lost her husband after succumbing to an 8-year battle with cancer. While we both faced the cancer experience in different ways, we both experienced the impact and loss of life-long partners. The longer we talked the more we discovered there was a profound need for companionship and a need to communicate on a deeper and personal level – far deeper and more fulfilling than what either of us had previously experienced with our deceased partners.

We discovered that intimacy was not always all about sexual intercourse but rather about cuddling, holding hands, and simply exploring mutual interests. Together we discovered a mutual love of art, wine, theatre, and music. Now as silly as the following may sound, we also discovered we both prefer to have our toilet paper rolls at our 2 homes to roll out over the top vs down the back. A silly discovery? Yes, but that kind of discovery leads to a lot of laughter and laughter has proven to be one of the most powerful tools in rebuilding our lives and relationships.

Cancer erected a wall in communication

Multiple run-ins with cancer resulted in my not communicating enough through the many months of treatment. My new life partner also experienced a similar cancer wall of silence in her former relationship. Today we have learned the value of openly discussing any topic including any cancer-related concerns and experiences versus avoiding them. At ages 76 and 80  we also realized we are no longer the self-proclaimed Venus de Milo or Adonis lovers of our much younger and former selves.

Being new to dating after 50 years we naturally had concerns over our well-seasoned body images and that included tension over possible performance issues for both. Yet because we chose to discuss things openly when some unexpected cancer treatment events happen like an unplanned neuropathy-induced leg cramp or a Charlie horse due to perhaps years of wearing high heels, the distraction is not a cause for stress but rather they are just another invitation to lay back and laugh versus an event that previously would have caused distress.

Moments of laughter no matter how brief may be the best self-prescribed couples’ medicine when it comes to dealing with blood cancer and intimacy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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