Manage, out of yourself, out of your aptitude and ways, out of your experience and childhood and strength to achieve a relation to sex wholly your own (not influenced by convention and custom). Then you need no longer be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your best possession. -- Rainer Maria Rilke


At no point during the initial crisis of diagnosis and the cascade of events that followed did I give a thought to my sex life. I was focused on just two things, 1) not freaking out one bit more than I already was and 2) living through this. My cancer was in the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus, and it had spread. That meant everything had to go: uterus, ovaries, cervix. They would leave me a vagina, slightly shorter than before but the thing is designed to stretch, so there’s that.

I looked up hysterectomies online, and was shocked at the dramas. Dismayed at the reports. I have known people who’ve had them, quite a few as I entered my 40s and 50s, and I never knew or asked why. I just listened if they talked about it, and only one of the people I knew who’d had them reported drastic quality of life issues. But loads of the women on the internet were talking about pain and suffering and losing all their womanhood in various ways. Some of them referred to themselves as “castrated.” I didn’t need to hear it. Because with a uterus lined with cancer, I didn’t have a choice. I was very grateful you could take it out, unlike with some body parts where cancer likes to go. So, I just clicked the laptop shut on this issue.

Anyway, the surgery happened and since it was done via a robot driven by my doctor from a console across the room, I had only five little button-sized incisions across my waistline and was up and walking the next day. The recovery was quick and almost beside the point as the chemo and its aftermath loomed ahead and there was still the best (worst?) part of the rest of the year to be gotten through. In this way I was lucky, I didn’t have the “luxury” of dwelling on the hysterectomy.

An aside. When I first heard about this robot thing, I didn’t like the sound of it at all. I’m no early adopter (cf. cell phones, hatred of). I asked my doctor how many of these he’d done and for how long, and you should too. But having had a very successful surgery and outcome, I am getting annoyed by all the articles coming out attacking robotic surgery on the basis, supposedly, of errors and costs. None of the articles I happen to have read compare error rates to those of regular, old-fashioned surgery by hand. That would be the relevant information. They refer to the doctor’s training and experience almost parenthetically. Also, isn’t it funny that cost is now of utmost concern when something that helps women in particular has come along (look at how many hysterectomies are performed)? Who decides costs, anyway? Now, there’s a rat’s nest… Recovery from little to no blood loss and getting up and walking the next day is way safer and healthier all around. (Whatever you get, don’t let them do morcellation on you, however.
Read up on it.) Finally, my understanding from the research that I did beforehand is that cancer is much more accurately viewed – and therefore gotten – when a robot is used, although in some cases the doctor will have to switch to surgery by hand if there is extensive spread. I'm not against reporters doing their jobs responsibly. I know that errors are made and support all bright light turned on those errors. Improvement depends on it. But I don't think robots are just an expensive toy being lavished on female troubles. And I hope that’s not what I’m hearing.

Chemo proceeded apace. Also during this time, I had the job of keeping my psychological shit together. I worked on it. I settled into it. I found life and peace and calm inside of that time. I was grateful for it. Any number of times, I was happy. It was more than enough.

Then one day, I had a sex life again. It began with my bald head, of all things. My husband and I were just hugging on the bed, with no ulterior motives, when he put his hand on my head and said, “Your bald head is so beautiful. It has a very good shape.” In all my girlhood dreams of courtship, in any fantasies of my teens, among the disappointed wishes of my difficult 20s, I had never imagined this sentence as the beginning of a seduction. But it was, and things went fine. We were surprised how normal it all felt, both of us. I’m doing this with a bald head, I kept thinking. I’m doing this with all that has been done to the equipment. Whoa.

It was a little tight. We have since experimented with lubricants and since I am not allowed near anything with estrogen or hormones in it, I’m limited to the stuff that doesn’t contain any. When I later began
brachytherapy radiation, they gave me a “dilator” to avoid “shrinking” and told me to either have real sex or use this dilator, one or the other, every week. Because, as the radiation doctor actually said, “Use it or lose it.” (By the time they’re doing bracytherapy to you, modesty on all sides has long since been obliterated. I leave it to the reader to guess where they slide the metal rod that radiates you if your cancer was gynecological. And when I say "they" I mean two or three individuals of mixed company.) For a year or two it still felt tight, now it doesn’t. I don’t need to use the dilator anymore, and I'm no longer under obligation to do something on a regular schedule. Which is good because how much fun is anything you are under obligation to do, anyway... If you are facing this, I want you to know that orgasms feel exactly the same as before. The first time I had one after all the business, I saluted my surgeon in spirit. Good work driving that robot. Sadly, my X-treme Taxol Brazilian was wasted on us as an asset. My generation doesn’t enforce that kind of grooming, and I’ve always been glad that I was born too soon for it. But if you and yours like that kind of thing, the landscaped look will be automatic and complete while you’re in chemo.

By the way, I never experienced any pain or anguish or suffering as a result of my hysterectomy. My recovery, both physical and psychological, was quick and easy. I’m not trying to negate the experience of those site posters who make the “castration” claims. But now you can say you’ve read at least one case on the internet for whom it was not traumatic in those ways at all. Look. The cancer was traumatic. But the hysterectomy? No.

In fact, this crisis ended up jump starting our sex life. We had been married for 21 years when this crisis hit so, you know, things were long-term relationship style. Not as often as back in the day. Traded for a good night’s sleep plenty of times. In the year or two leading up, as the fatigue that led me to my diagnosis mounted, caused by the cancer itself and even more so by the anemia that turned out to be one of its clues, things became even more sporadic and less sought out. Now we’ve both got a new lease on life, and a distinct appreciation for it. Life, I mean. The rest seemed to follow. ###

Photo credit my own.