“I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Those five words changed my life.
In preparation for the cancer treatments, Erin’s medical team reviewed potential side effects with her. They said the treatment would burn her skin, make her sick, and cause pain. However, they did not mention any long-term side effects. Though sexual dysfunction was listed as a possible side effect of the radiation, doctors assured her that it wouldn’t be a problem because she was young, healthy, and sexually active.
Her treatment left her with long-term sexual dysfunction she wasn’t prepared for. Her side effects included vaginal atrophy and the drying, thinning, shortening, and scarring of the vaginal tissues. Because these side effects were not addressed until 5 months after cancer treatment, penetrative sex would never be possible.
Though her sexual health was negatively impacted, surviving cancer provided Erin with an opportunity to advocate for patients, by raising awareness and educating the oncology community on how to address sexual health side effects as a standard of care after the diagnosis. By sharing her personal journey, she is reducing the stigma related to discussing sexual health in a cancer care setting.
Education, Advocacy, and action
Unifying the Community
As a non-profit organization, After Cancer’s significant impact on the oncology community wouldn’t be possible without its support from donors and grants. After Cancer provides evidence-based education and training required to close the communication gap between providers and patients. After Cancer’s programs are raising awareness, and increasing the knowledge and confidence to normalize the conversation and address sexual health side effects with patients.