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New measures to help cancer patients recover -

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New measures to help cancer patients recover their sexuality

Nance Haxton reported this story on Friday, July 10, 2009 15:52:57

PETER CAVE: A warning that our last story today contains some sexual language and themes.

The Cancer Council of Western Australia has produced a series of CDs to help people deal with the
changes in their sex lives during and after cancer treatment.

They feature frank interviews with cancer patients and their partners, about the most intimate
details of their lives.

The series will be released nationally and available on podcast, as a resource for cancer patients
trying to come to terms with this often unspoken aspect of their illness.

Nance Haxton reports.

GEOFF: When the doctor told me it was terminal, it was like he opened up his drawer, took out a
hand grenade, pulled the safety pin out of the hand grenade and passed it to me, and my sexuality
just got blown away with everything else.

NANCE HAXTON: The impact of cancer on a patient's sexuality and body image is often seen as so
problematic, that it's not addressed at all.

The Cancer Council of Western Australia was so concerned that it decided to produce a series of
interviews on CD, discussing issues such as psychological and emotional changes, common sexual
problems, and the impact of surgery and chemotherapy.

ROBYN: It's the body image and that you're not the same, you're never the same again

NANCE HAXTON: Fleur Bainger interviewed the participants for the project, and says she was amazed
at their candour.

FLEUR BAINGER: I think it will bridge the gap and fill a rather large and significant hole in an
issue that affects everyone, let's face it, whether you're in your late teens all the way up to
being a 90-year-old, sexuality and having sex is something that is vital to everyone's quality of
life and existence.

And so there's a huge need for this sort of information and I think it will go some way to showing
our health professionals that it's something they need to provide and that for patients it's
something they're allowed to ask and know about.

NANCE HAXTON: In the interviews Kath talls frankly about how she felt she was a non-person after
her treatment for vulval cancer.

KATH: I had to have my clitoris, vulva and lymph glands removed due to cancer. Psychologically it
was devastating, I couldn't wait to find out whether I was still actually able to perform sex.

But I'm please to say that I am actually able to orgasm, after all that I've been through and even
though I knew I was going to be in pain, you know I had to prove to myself that I was still able to
do that.

NANCE HAXTON: While Roz explains how she overcame the changes to her sex life, when her husband was
diagnosed with prostate cancer.

ROZ: Instead of veering away from it, which is one, I think most people tend to not want to discuss
it because it is quite an intimate thing and it is quite scary; we did the opposite, and we
discussed it in great detail.

NANCE HAXTON: Sandy McKiernan is the director of cancer services with the Cancer Council of Western
Australia.

She says it's incredibly difficult for cancer patients to get reliable information about how their
illness will affect their sex lives, as they're either too shy to discuss it, or doctors and nurses
don't want to confront the issue.

SANDY MCKIERNAN: Basically we have had a lot of contact from health professionals and patients
alike, telling us that there's not a lot of information for patients around sexuality and body
image and it's often overlooked by the medical fraternity as a little bit too difficult to tackle.

NANCE HAXTON: Why do you think that is? Are we still a bit shy to talk about this because it would
be something I imagine that would be of concern to most cancer patients.

SANDY MCKIERNAN: I think it is a lot to do with how comfortable you feel yourself in talking about
sex and sexuality and the other part of what we're doing when releasing this CD set is actually
increasing the availability of education for health professionals around sexuality and cancer.

NANCE HAXTON: On the CDs, Tony talks about how he's overcome any sexual limitations, after having
his cancerous prostate removed.

TONY: The major implication of course was that I was going to become impotent unless there was some
miracle. It doesn't preclude you from having sex though, to me a sex shop is just like a toy shop -
I mean it's amazing, you know, those people in there are trained to help people with sexual
problems.

And so we've established a toy cupboard I think for want of a better word. Although I can't have an
erection I still get an enjoyment out of it I can still have an orgasm it's not a problem.

NANCE HAXTON: The overwhelming message from the series of interviews, that will be available from
Cancer Councils nationally, is that cancer does not have to rob you of a meaningful sex life, as
breast cancer survivor Pat explains.

PAT: I felt so ugly and horrible and my sexuality was definitely gone. Our sex life is wonderful
again, and it's very nice to be, to have matured and understand that sex is perhaps in your mind
anyway.

PETER CAVE: A breast cancer survivor named Pat ending Nance Haxton's report.