COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A reality about life with and after cancer: It impacts your intimacy. Whether it’s chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, the side effects can take a toll on the human body. One of the pronounced areas is on the reproductive system.

Kim Britt
Kim Britt, 38, talks about her journey of cancer diagnosis, recovery, and how treatment changed intimacy for her.

Kim Britt survived ovarian cancer at the age of 30. The Grove City woman is now nearing 40-years-old. She recalled that her survival and recovery revolved around focusing on living, and that included intimacy.

“That’s something you have to take inventory in your mind and ask what’s going to happen,” said Britt. “If I get into another relationship, that’s a serious conversation you need to have with that person.”

Britt described the scar on her stomach as “long and ugly.” While she perceives the aftermath of her surgery this way, she noted it is important to her that an intimate partner is not bothered with it, or at least is able to overlook it. She confirms that intimacy questions come to mind.

“If you find yourself comfortable, and say it doesn’t work and [then] you’re not comfortable then you’re worried that person is going to reject you,” she said. “It’s a constant mind game.”

Doubts, attractiveness, confidence: Study reveals women’s concerns

When the reproductive area is affected, the patient can have doubts about intimacy, whether being attractive or being confident enough to pursue intercourse. This is where conversations and openness with your doctor and partner become a mainstay with healing. According to a survey conducted by the Gemstone Oncology and the Scientific Network on Female Sexual Health and Cancer, of 1,029 survivors of gynecological malignancies, women identified sexual dysfunction as a health-related issue. It was second only to fatigue.

Some of the symptoms reported in the survey are decreased libido & arousal, problems with orgasm, vaginal dryness, and less sexual activity. The report also states that women with gynecologic cancer have received “loss of femininity, depression, and anxiety.” According to Britt, being reassured by one’s significant other is key to helping. Gynecological Oncologist Dr. Dennis Desimone from The Zangmeister Cancer Center takes a holistic approach to women’s health and explained couples counseling sometimes will help alleviate mental distress. Sometimes he will recommend other options.

“I’m frequently telling my patients, you know what, go be creative,” said Dr. Desimone. “Get the lubricants, go to the Lion’s Den or some other facility and see what you can use to be creative.”

You read the quote correctly. Desimone referenced the Lion’s Den. Stereotypically, this business is known for “peep shows” during the 1970s. Its website about page reads quite differently, “We aspire to provide pleasure products in a comfortable and upbeat atmosphere; along with the education needed for our patrons to confidently express whichever form of sexuality they choose.”

Lion’s Den sets up shop at cancer-walk

On Sunday, September 15, the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Ohio (OCAO) held its annual fund and awareness-raising walk. Britt was a part of the event, as she volunteers with the organization. There, one of the vendors was The Zangmeister Cancer Center, for which Dr. Desimone works, another vendor was The Lion’s Den. So why in the world would a place like this involve itself with OCAO?

Lion's Den Marketing and Even Coordinator Ally Dunlap talks about her experience helping people feel whole with products her company sells.
Lion’s Den Marketing and Even Coordinator Ally Dunlap discussed her experience helping people feel whole with the products her company sells.

“I know that people like to beat around the bush, ‘oh what do you have,’” said Ally Dunlap who is the Lion’s Den marketing and event coordinator. “I actually brought a display of products with me to the event and it surprised a lot of people. It was not phallic. It was not scary. It was not gross. Everything was beautifully organized, looked nice, and you wouldn’t know what it is unless you asked me what it was for.”

The company acknowledges and is aware of the folklore people believe it represents. But Dunlap says they offer products that help people, women, and men, stay intimate with their significant other, including before, during and after cancer treatment.

“We need to get out there so people understand that this isn’t something to be embarrassed or be scared about,” said Dunlap.

To make sure women battling through disease are living a strong quality of life, Dr. Desimone asks patients all sorts of questions, including how is their sex life. For him, real conversations need to happen in order to be sure patients are whole.

“It’s important to talk to your partner to express your concern,” said Desimone. “It’s also important to talk to your doctor because maybe there’s something that can be done. Sometimes we can make some modifications: we can add medications.”

Of course, Desimone emphasized only go with what you are comfortable. Those conversations matter in the examination room with your doctor and in private with your significant other.

“We’ll make certain modifications upfront to get the patient more comfortable with sex.”

Most of us are a product of sex. Most of us have experienced and look forward to the time with whom we share that experience. That is the point that Dunlap, Britt, and Dr. Desimone are making. Remember that survey quoted earlier in the article? It also points out that “Sexual dysfunction disrupts the quality of life.” The survey flat out suggests that it could affect a woman’s long-term survival rate.

“Am I going to be able to please my partner is my partner going to be pleased with me,” Britt questioned after her cancer surgery. “Is everything going to work the way it’s supposed to?”

That is why Dr. Desimone works with the patient medically.

“We’ll make certain modifications upfront to get the patient more comfortable with sex,” said Desimone. “If we need additional help we get additional help.”

Dr. Desimone said that the additional help is therapy, practices, and even the use of “toys.” That is the reason the Lion’s Den was a sponsor of the OCAO walk. The company offers products to help people stay connected to their partner. But, before you walk into an adult-oriented business to get help, be sure you have open and honest discussions with your doctor and partner about your body, needs, comfort, and quality of life.

“Normalize the conversation and make this something that you can enjoy no matter who you are,” said Dunlap.

“You need to feel comfortable with yourself,” explained Britt. “You need to feel comfortable with your partner and you need to be able to do what pleases you and your partner at the same time, but you can’t rush those things.”

“When you think men you think their sex drive is in general much higher than a woman’s. In general, that is true. But it doesn’t mean that women are not interested in sex. A lot of women are maybe interested in sex because they know it’s important to their partner,” emphasized Desimone. “We have to figure out what we can do if there’s anything we can do to restore that for them.”