Impotence and Cancer - It's [Insert Snappy Double Entendre Here]

Last updated: March 2020

Ladies – you know I enjoy having all genders, races, religions, and creeds read my writing, but this one is going to be directed more at the men. I’m not saying you won’t get anything out of it, not at all, but we are going to talk about a few things that are decidedly male. It’s a part of chemo that rarely gets discussed, for many reasons, but mainly because it can cause shame, anxiety, loss of identity, and as host of other side effects. I’m talking, of course, about chemo-induced sterility and impotence.

Sterility & impotence: Side effects we rarely talk about

Sterility. Impotence. Heavy words. Heavy burdens to carry. Both, unfortunately, are a possible outcome of the chemo treatment. I remember when the doctor started to cover this particular subject that I happened to be sitting next to my now ex-wife and my mother. If I had to choose the most embarrassing people to be with when those topics came up, my mother and wife were right up there at the top of the list with The Pope, my eighth-grade girlfriend, and Mrs. Thurston Howell III (why couldn’t it be Ginger?). So, yeah, it was exactly as excruciating as you can imagine. The thing is, I was already in the hospital at that point and as those of you who have ever had an inpatient stay before know, the first things to go are dignity and privacy.

There I was, being told that there was a 15-20% chance I’d be sterile after the chemo. Add that to the thirty some-odd years of horrendous medications and abuse the RA had visited upon my body and I was probably actually somewhere around the “Dove soap percentage” of sterility by that point (99.44%). There was brief talk about freezing some of my swimmers, but it would have postponed the start of chemo and, not surprisingly, my insurance wouldn’t pay for it if I was an inpatient. That meant I’d have to be checked out of the hospital for a few hours and then do paperwork until I was too old to have kids anyway. So I said screw it (no pun intended) and decided to roll the dice and I threw the family jewels into the pot. I started the chemo.

Dealing with the emotional ramifications

In retrospect, the mental component of being possibly sterile was nothing to take lightly. I was barely 40 years old at the time and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up on having kids, forever. Besides, making a decision like that at one of the worst times in your life is almost impossible. “Oh, hey, you might be dying and you need chemo, but also please seriously consider your future as a father and possible parent. You have five minutes.” Who the hell can process that much mental data that fast under those conditions? I mean, I’m good, but no one can grasp the full emotional ramifications. At that point, the only thing you know, know for sure, know more than anything else you’ve ever known, is that you want to live so gimmie that freakin’ chemo. Asking a person to think about anything else is akin to torture.

The other issue – and I fully realize that I may be putting a bullet in the head of my dating life by talking about this, is the impotence. They did warn me about it but it was so far off my radar at that point. I mean, who gets chemo and then starts bedding women like Wilt Chamberlain in the 60s? It wasn’t a thing I was even the least bit concerned about. I was worried about being able to get myself out of bed, not enticing someone else into it. Plus, you know, wife, and all that. I was still married at the time, and as anyone in sweet wedded bliss can tell you, marriage has absolutely nothing to do with sex. That’s why when it happened I was like, great, something else comes up I have to deal with I guess. Or, more accurately, something else that didn’t come up that I have to deal with. (Did you think we were going to get out of this post without a healthy dose of euphemisms? No chance.)

Many side effects can affect self-esteem and confidence

When you have issues in that area it can seriously affect your self-esteem and confidence. It’s a thing that just happens. I just didn’t have the emotional fuel to put another poker into the fire, so I pulled a Bob Dole (still gross). The little blue pill – Viagra. Unlike the TV commercials, though, I didn’t need it to fix an old mustang up or play football with the guys so I could come home and sex up my older but still insanely beautiful wife. I just wanted one less thing to worry about, truth be told. At a certain point, I got to feeling like I had more things broken on me than a tilt-a-whirl at the county fair.

Funny thing, that Viagra. I, like probably every single guy who ever got a script, wanted to try it just to see. So I did, figuring “what’s the worst that could happen?” I took one half of a tablet, and then… nothing happened. I thought maybe it wasn’t enough, so I took the other half and…  nothing happened. “Great,” I thought, “Viagra is a bust.” I forgot about it and went to dinner with a friend since it was a rare night I had an appetite. Now, the thing they don’t make clear about Viagra is that it isn’t a “pop a pill, get an erection” type deal. Not at all. If you take it and then set about mowing the lawn, nothing will happen. You won’t have the neighbors thinking you just really, REALLY, like the smell of cut grass. Is that a trowel in your pocket or… anyway, point is, it doesn’t work unless you are, stimulated. Get it? Well, I didn’t, and they need to put that on the label or something because the restaurant we went to dinner at was also a bar, and at that bar, they had a special for Thursday nights. Thursday nights were ladies’ night. Ladies night and Viagra are either the best combination since PB&J, or the unsuspectingly worst combination since fire and… more fire. Yeah, that happened.

Sterility, impotence... still even feels weird to write it... but these are issues that patients need to be aware of but rarely discuss openly. If nothing else, take my post as a springboard to discuss these issues, even if it’s just with yourself, there is tons of info out there, try Google. Me, well, after this post I’m probably never getting “Googled” again. Talk soon.

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