Celibate Marriage After Prostate Cancer

I am surprised at myself for joining this community but am feeling very much alone in not being able to share this with others in any sort of real way. My husband is in a very public position - others know about his cancer of course, but I am not able to share in our small community about our sex life, nor would I want to. We have been best friends and lovers for 39 years - high school sweethearts who have enjoyed a strong and vibrant marriage and sex life all these years. 18 months ago he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and had his prostate removed. After months of physical healing and the promise that his nerve function was still there, we began trying again to have sex. After a number of trials with pills (nothing), pump (not helping) and our own frustrated attempts we were still trying, though both of us were frustrated. Then the cancer came back(if it ever really left) and he began hormone therapy which will continue and radiation therapy still to come. Now he has no physical sexual desire, though he loves me. We are both grieving but he has become somewhat distant (it feels to me) and no longer initiates sweet looks,hugs, back rubs, kissing,holding hands - all the things that have been a natural part of our relationship since the beginning. He will return mine but somewhat distantly, probably feels like its something he cant follow up on even though I tell him I just want and need the physical contact still. I feel like I have lost something so precious and have been very depressed (am taking medication, cant afford counceling). Over it all is the fear of what may be coming, the return of the cancer and the monetary problems that it all brings. We talk and pray and are doing the best we can but I havent found any real solutions (no, oral sex is not an option for him) and he isnt interested in using his hands or anything else to have a form of 'sex" now. He has given it up(for now) I think and left me to "pleasure" myself. It isnt much pleasure, just an empty mechanical release. I wish I could just turn it all off too. The sex is less important to me than feeling like I am still his sweetheart, still desirable to him and not just a partner/friend. We have strong faith and know that somehow this will work out but would appreciate some honest, kind conversation with a woman who is going through the same thing. Thanks for listening!
saintlyps saintlyps
56-60, F
5 Responses May 22, 2012

Seems like HE could do with some counselling to assist him process and deal with the various issues this circumstance has dumped on you both. For him. For you. For the relationship.<br />
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That, of course, is only going to happen if he is amenable to the concept, or can be persuaded to give it a go.<br />
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If he is the quality person you describe, then you'd figure that he would give it a go.<br />
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Tread your own path.

What can anyone meaningfully say to either of you that would not be trite? You are both victims of circumstance, unlike some folks. Rage at God, life, the Universe if you think it helps.<br />
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Look, you are both depressed, for different but interrelated reasons. You are both grieving for a common loss. However, there are additional factors that he is probably dealing with that you may not fully appreciate and others that you may be dealing with that he is distracted from.<br />
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The cancer has returned and he now fears for his life. You fear losing a partner but you are a little conflicted by that because of his current attitude. Much as you may think it, you can't compare the two. Imagine if you can how you might feel right now if a doctor announced to you that you were suffering from cervical cancer or breast cancer. How might you be reacting to your sex life?<br />
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There are situations that arise that although one of you may do the practical suffering, you both effectively suffer equally, for example, when you are relying on one another like this. You can't get away from it. And because he is the one dealing with it, you will ultimately have to deal with it on his terms. If you are generous enough in spirit you will also recognize that it can't really be any other way. However, with patience, tact, sympathy and empathy I truly believe that you can support him, encourage him to gradually accept where he is at, for better or worse and deal with whatever the outcome may be, to deal with each day as it comes and try to distract himself from the longer term future moment-by-moment. His cancer is not going to get worse merely because he stops thinking about it for a short while. However, 18 months in the overall scheme of things is but a short time when one figuratively is only entitled to breathe a bit more easily after having had the all-clear after 5 years, maybe 10 years. He just needs more time to adjust psychologically and that is very difficult if you have just been told the cancer has returned. It is ultimately what all cancer sufferers really, really, dread; the persistence.<br />
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You need comfort from him right now to help you deal with it but he has withdrawn from you, into his shell, as a defence mechanism, to try to hide from and distract himself from the ever-present feeling of dread. That is a very PERSONAL experience. You can't really share that with anyone, believe me. However, you can try to help him deal with it.<br />
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Has he ever discussed his innermost thoughts and feelings with you over that? Is he even the sort of man who does that anyway? It isn't the depression that is doing for him, it is the anxiety, the omniscient dread. It is possible that his heart rate and pulse is permanently raised right now, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He may be very, very conscious of his pulse beating throughout his body even as he tries to sleep. Are you aware of his sleep patterns right now? The anxiety may even be strong enough to leave him feeling nauseous a lot of the time and that would be on top of any medical treatment he receives or any anti-cancer medicine he might receive.<br />
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All I can suggest that you take the initiative and try to talk to him about how you are feeling although be careful about projecting any impression that it is all about you. It might help him to start talking more about it himself. It is getting over that initial hurdle. All you can do is to smother him with love such that he realises how important it is to him and that hopefully he will reciprocate. And don't be afraid to say to him that you don't expect to be romping in the sack at this time but that all you want to do is to hold hands, kiss affectionately from time to time, to hold one another when and where the opportunity arises, to just support one another.<br />
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On a practical note, I sympathise with you over the financial worries over it too. That is really, really the last thing you need to have to deal with on top of everything else.<br />
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Take care, both of you.

My H does not have cancer, but does have debilitating illness. So I somewhat know what you are going through. <br />
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If nothing else we here will listen and sympathise. I do not think you are on par with many here whose spouses actively push them away, but there are a few of us here with spouses who are medically ill, some of us with more loving spouses than others.

thank you for sympathy and just listening. I am sorry for your situation as well - very hard to deal with. Have you found a way to deal productively with it? peace,

Unfortunately in my case he's pushed me far away over the decade, so we are not going to work out.


in your case I stress to him he is still alive and needs to remember that fact. He needs to show you what affection he still can. there are people far worse off in palliative care who still hold hands and hug and say loving things right to the end. The fact he is withdrawing is not so much the illness as psychological and i echo others who say talk with a doctor well versed in cancer and intimacy and grief.

Your's is one of the worst imaginable situations. Your loving spouse is literally unable to continue to be your sexual partner despite every effort on both your parts. His withdrawal from intimacy is understandable as it probably provokes his desire for you and underlines his inability to do anything about that.<br />
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I'm sure you have spoken to each other honestly about this issue - of intimacy that is not specifically intercourse - but please be sure he knows how much you NEED this.<br />
Whilst the absence of a complete sexual unon is distressing to you both, it IS important not to also lose the hugs, the hand holding, the closeness you have.<br />
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I would certainly encourage you to consider counselling for yourself to help you manage your very understandable fears and depression. You have my deepest sympathy.

I think some of this has to do with how we both are trying to deal with the cancer. He is an very kind,helpful,usually cheerful person and normally strong as well. This has thrown him for a loop, especially as he is in a job that requires him to be a leader/helper for others. I think he just cant handle all of it at once and maybe this is the thing that seems the hardest to deal with so he is putting it away till he can. I will keep on hugging him and loving him as always. He is doing his best and so am I. I am hoping someone here might have some answers as to what worked for them. thank you for your kind words and sympathy.

Not a woman, but feeling for you, and you sound like a very loving person.<br />
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I guess he's grieving and fearful (as are you both).<br />
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How this stuff takes you is probably not knowable till you're in it, yet I would hope that, whatever happened to me, I'd still want to satisfy my lover, to use whatever time we had to express that - in whatever way I could still manage. It's a great pity that's not happening - have you made it plain & explicit that you'd be very happy for him to be there and join you in sharing that together while you can? <br />
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Sometimes having strong faith can overemphasise the primacy of tab x in slot y.