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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 28 July - 4th August 2017 > The Big Oh

The Big Oh

Is there sex after chemo?

SPECIAL CANCER ISSUE

DANIEL GRIZELJ/GETTY

Wearing only stretchy blue briefs, David Fuehrer posed for the camera with one beefy arm fiexed over his head, the other clenched in front of his chest. Thick muscles and veins rippled under his tan, hairless skin, and there was a tense smirk on his face. It was 2001, and Fuehrer, then 25, was just a few days away from winning the light heavyweight title at the Natural New York State Bodybuilding Championship.

Four months later, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. “It stripped away all of my male identity,” says Fuehrer, whose treatment left him impotent for nearly a year. “Impotency to a guy is so much more than your thing doesn’t function. It’s like, you’re not a man. How do you say to people, ‘I’m not a man’?”

When people first hear those three words—“You have cancer”—the only thing that’s certain is just how uncertain their future is. How long will I live? If I die, what will happen to my children? How painful will treatment be? Will I be able to have kids? There are so many important and charged topics for patients to discuss with their doctors that sexuality is often pretty low on the list of concerns.

It shouldn’t be. “The cure isn’t enough,” says Fuehrer, who now sits on the board of directors for Stupid Cancer, a nonprofit focusing on young adults. “Just the fact that more people are living, that’s wonderful, but more people are living with really awful stufithey now have to deal with.”

Cancer is a ruthless, nefarious disease, and oncologists are vigilant about preventing its spread. In other words, extending life. But these treatments often bring a horror show of sexual side efiects, from impotence to vaginal shrinkage and dryness. There are also the emotional ramifications patients, their partners and families endure. At least 60 percent of cancer survivors sufier from long-term sexual problems, and fewer than 20 percent get the help they need to lead fulfilling sex lives, says Leslie Schover, a clinical psychologist and a pioneer in helping cancer survivors navigate sexual health and fertility. Only half of all cancer patients recall anyone from oncology addressing the efiects that treatment will have on sex and intimacy, and just 20 percent report being satisfied with the help they received from health care professionals for their sexual problems.

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About Newsweek International

CANCER REBELS For this year's Special Health Issue, we've focused on the Cancer Rebels, the women, men and children who ignore the rules and scorn the conventions that surround cancer, and who refuse to succumb to the disease. These are the people who find vitality in taking on cancer from unexpected directions.
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