Today's post is part two of my interview with Victoria Hallerman, author of How We Survived Prostate Cancer: What We Did and What We Should Have Done. Hallerman shares her intimate story about her husband, Dean's, recovery from prostate cancer surgery and the effects surgery had on their sex life. To read part one of our interview, click here.
Denene Brox: What did you and your husband learn about impotence through your experience as a couple dealing with prostate cancer?
Victoria Hallerman: That, among other things, we don't believe in the term "impotence!" Much of the challenge of erectile dysfunction lies in the way society sees erectile function -- as a man's "power." "Impotent" means "powerless." It has taken Dean many years to stop viewing his condition as somehow indicative of overall weakness or frailty or lack of manliness. So what did we both learn about erectile dysfunction? That it's a mechanical malfunction experienced by many men; some of whom got there naturally, by aging. We also learned that intimacy isn't defined by erectile ability. Erectile function and libido are two entirely different things. For Dean, the greater challenge continues to be libido.
DB: What advice would you give to other couples about what to expect sexually after treatment?
VH: Don't do what we did! Listen to each other, and admit that what has happened has happened to both of you from different perspectives. For men: don't be ashamed, and don't cut your partner or wife out of your thoughts on sexuality. For women: understand how fundamentally any prostate cancer treatment can change your partner; don't take rejection personally. Don't wait to begin working to regain erectile function; you have a narrow window of opportunity on that. Love each other and expect to be profoundly changed. You will have to redefine what intimacy means. I think as people age, most have to do that gradually, but PCa treatments make the changes sudden and dramatic.
DB: Do you have any additional thoughts or comments to add?
VH: Don't go it alone, whether you’re in a relationship or single. I can't say enough about what belonging to a support group community has done for both of us. At first, I went to Man to Man meetings alone, partially because I was writing a book, but also as a wife who had had nobody to talk to about what I was going through personally and wanted to heal something in me that was broken. But the big healing for me was when Dean came to sit beside me as a member at these monthly meetings. Closing the wound in our relationship that treatment and cancer inflicted was achieved in part by writing How We Survived Prostate Cancer and by being members of a community. When I hear Dean talking to one of the newly diagnosed at one of these meetings, it moves me more than I can say.