Colorado doctor writes about intimacy after cancer

DENVER -- Intimacy after cancer can be a challenge for some patients.

Anne Shelley is one of those people.

The patient at University of Colorado Hospital has ovarian cancer, but is in remission, and enjoying life with her husband, Chuck. “My husband has been so supportive,” she said.

Over the last seven years, the cancer has come back multiple times, spreading to multiple organs. She’s had chemo, radiation and nine major surgeries. One of those surgeries took most of her insides, and affected her sexual function.

“Here I am, I’m 49 years old. I have a husband,” she remembers. “I said to him, you know what, you don’t have to stay with me. You can go.”

But that wasn’t going to happen. Chuck said he loved her, and the couple found new ways to be intimate.

Their story is now featured in a new book called “Sex and Cancer” written by Anne’s gynecologic oncologist, Saketh Guntupalli. He says a large study at UCHealth found 70 percent of women who were treated for these cancers had sexual dysfunction afterwards. The doctor also found a large percentage of the women ended up in couples therapy.

“If a diagnosis of these type of cancers is going to put you at risk for divorce or separation, we want to prevent that, and this book, I think, really brings to light some things that patients can do to prepare for these changes, and at least be aware of them,” Dr. Guntupalli said.

He reminds patients that it’s important to communicate with their partner and their doctor. “There is hope. There are things that you can do to prevent sexual dysfunction after a diagnosis of cancer, and there are really ways to build and make your relationship stronger,” he said.

Anne and Chuck are proof of that. “You may go through a rough patch, but the more you talk about it, the easier it gets,” Anne said.

Dr. Guntupalli’s book “Sex and Cancer” is available on Amazon. The public is also invited to a book party Saturday, July 29, from 5:00 to 8:00, at the Prive at Dorchester Lounge in Denver.