A cancer diagnosis isn't just devastating for the patient. Research shows cancer is known to cause a high rate of divorce.
To prevent breakups, Cancer Treatment Centers of America is helping couples keep their love alive with a unique form of counseling.
The program proved invaluable to Rich and Lisa Smith. Their happy marriage took a hard hit three years ago when Rich was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"There's all kinds of cancers," said Rich Smith, a cancer patient from Tulsa. "But with prostate cancer you have the chance of losing functions as a man and that was important to us."
Their treatment plan at Cancer Treatment Centers of America included counseling with Traci Owen, an Oncology Sexual Health Specialist at CTCA in Tulsa.
Tracy and Rich hit it off right away.
"The doctors cover what the cancer is doing and Traci covered things that you're thinking about but don't ask," Smith said. He says it was his wife, Lisa, who found it daunting to talk about their sex life.
"I was the one who pulled back and said, 'I'm not going to talk about that!" Lisa Smith said while laughing. "I don't want to talk about this! I was very uncomfortable the first time."
Their counselor is Owen, who spent 31-years working as a registered nurse before she felt called to help others talk about intimacy.
'Nurses are seen as safe professionals. People will tell a nurse things they will not typically tell other people," said Owen.
She has found cancer treatment can have a negative impact on that special time that keeps couples together. So, her goal is to give them a safe place to have conversations, ask questions and "maybe evolve how they have shared sexuality in the past so that they remain intimate and meet the needs of their body at the same time. Maybe give them the opportunity to expand thinking about the intimate relationship they share, that couple can find a whole new place within their marriage and what a beautiful thing is that in the midst of cancer that takes so much away from us," Owen added.
She warns that a cancer diagnosis is known to break up marriages which is why nurturing intimacy is vital while undergoing treatment. Talking about this often taboo topic made a difference for the Smith's.
"And we both have said that our marriage was the strongest that it has ever been when Rich was going through treatment," Lisa said with tears in her eyes while her husband nodded in agreement.
With three years of good health for Rich, they are still following Owen's advice.
"She used to say that all of the time," Lisa said. "You gotta love on each other... and we do."
Owen underwent extensive training through the University of Michigan to become a certified sexuality counselor. She said sexual intimacy counseling is available to everyone and not only CTCA patients. Simply call the hospital in Tulsa and request an appointment.
In addition, the American Cancer Society offers information that may be helpful to prostate cancer patients. Click here for more information.
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