No matter the diagnosis or prognosis, prostate cancer changes a man. Prostate cancer treatments can have a negative effect on people’s romantic lives.
Weight gain, fatigue, and depression are serious issues for many prostate cancer patients. In my opinion, none of these cut as deep as a loss as intimacy.
In all honesty, I struggled to write this article. I was worried about the content. I wanted it to be factual. I wanted it to be real. I researched clinical data, and I read about statistics. Yet nothing helped.
Intimacy issues cannot be explained with data and statistics. Intimacy is of the heart. So, I decided that simply just sharing my story was the best way to help other men.
The start of a relationship, and a cancer diagnosis
I met my wife 6 months before my diagnosis. I was sick at the time but didn’t know it yet.
I’m a guitarist and lead vocalist in a club band in the Pacific Northwest. Mandy came to hear us during the weekend of my 42nd birthday. We’ve been together since.
We don’t believe in love at first sight. For us it was a slow burn, but it didn’t take long to realize that we’d rather hang out with each other than with anyone else.
Our friendship grew into something much deeper. We fell head over heels for each other. As our love grew, so did our passion. It was a wonderful 6 months.
I didn’t know much about prostate cancer, except that my Grampa had it. I guess I thought it was an old man’s disease. I learned from Grandpa that a prostate cancer diagnosis meant the end of physical intimacy. But it bothered me to think of Grampa and Grandma in that way anyway.
I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2006. My doctors told me I’d never be cured and that surgery and radiation were not options.
The only treatment option available to me was androgen deprivation, which works by lowering the amount of testosterone made in the testicles. Lower testosterone levels can have a number of effects on the body, including hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings, and reduced libido.
I loved Mandy, but after the diagnosis I told her that we should break off our relationship. I tried to explain to her how things would change. She didn’t care. She loved me.
The toll of hormone treatments
I received my first testosterone-suppressing shot on the day of my diagnosis. I experienced my first symptoms within a week. I had hot flushes. I began to lose hair on my torso. My libido began to wane. Erectile dysfunction was not far behind.
Testosterone plays an important role in men’s bodies. It’s why most men have thicker bones and heavier muscle mass than women. It’s responsible for facial hair and sperm production, and it’s also the driving force behind most men’s strong libido.
Mandy and I were determined not to let physical intimacy die despite my diagnosis and treatments. We tried everything, but none of the prescription medications worked for us. It seems you have to have libido for them to work.
Each failure we experienced became a brick in the wall that was being built between us. Eventually, I didn’t even want to try. Intimacy was dying.
Luckily, we had a few successes during that first year. They gave us hope. They kept us going.
Mandy married me a year after my diagnosis. She said the lack of intimacy didn’t bother her.
But over time, she realized that she was lying to herself. At night she would cry in her sleep. I could see the hurt in her eyes when she looked at me. She loved me. But inside she felt unattractive, unwanted, and unneeded.
Stumbling into a solution
We finally found a medication that worked a few years into our marriage. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was a start. It was mechanical, but at least we could share physical love with each other.
We went on our first real vacation in 2012, 6 years after my diagnosis. We were really excited to spend 7 days together in the Caribbean.
It was supposed to be a romantic getaway. Somehow in the excitement of leaving the house, I forgot to pack the rocket fuel.
Amanda was upset, but we decided to make the best of it.
One evening as we walked along the deck looking out at the ocean, I was overwhelmed by the love that I felt for this amazing woman. I was filled with desire, and we had a wonderful night together.
Mandy and I no longer require medication. It’s been 7 years.
What happened? What changed?
I don’t have a definitive answer to what changed that night. All I really have are theories and speculation.
Last week I had some bloodwork done. My testosterone level is undetectable. Yet I still have a libido and sexual function.
What I think: Seven years ago, I got out of my own head. I focused on how deeply I love my wife. I stopped worrying about whether my body was going to function.
By focusing on emotional love rather than physical love, we somehow experienced both. It’s been that way ever since.
Things are not perfect between us. Physical intimacy is still not what we wish it could be. But the love we feel for each other more than makes up for it. If we can do it, I’m sure others can too.
There is no one solution that works for every person. Medication might work for some men. Other men may find that intimacy is rewarding in other forms.
I wrote this article to give hope to other couples that they can restore physical intimacy in their relationship in spite of prostate cancer.
For more information on how to manage a cancer diagnosis, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
NPS-US-NP-00669 JUNE 2020