One in six men in America today is affected by prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than two million men living in the United States have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. I am one of those.
Women are impacted by prostate cancer at an exponential rate. After all, most men relate to more than one woman. In addition to being a husband/lover, men connect to women as fathers, brothers, uncles, colleagues and friends. Almost every woman could tell you a story about a man in her life
diagnosed with prostate cancer. I am one of those stories.
Steve and I learned early on that the survival rate from prostate cancer is extremely high, which we found comforting. We also learned that even with the latest nerve-sparing surgery techniques or the most accurate delivery of radiation treatment, there was a high possibility that Steve’s physical ability to engage in an intimate relationship would be negatively impacted, at least to some degree.
Our journey from just surviving cancer to living a sexually fulfilled life was full of challenges we didn’t anticipate.
Many of the physical aspects we enjoyed in our relationship disappeared after Steve’s prostate was removed. This negatively impacted our entire relationship, until we learned to look at sex in a whole new way.
At first, Steve and I focused on all the traditional medical solutions with little success. The breakthrough came when we were able to better define the problem as a lack of intimacy and sexual fulfillment. We expanded the “playing field” and created dozens of solutions for intimacy.
It didn’t start that way though. We took many wrong turns and lived in survival mode longer than needed. Soon after Steve’s diagnosis, he withdrew. Using a laser-like focus, he researched his options to remove the cancer from his body. I didn’t know how to reach him, and his distance caused me to withdraw from the relationship as well.
As we reflect back, we see how we approached Steve’s diagnosis and our less than satisfying sex life from our own unique perspectives. In the beginning Steve and I didn’t fully appreciate how men and women approach and solve problems in different ways.
We were also very good at avoidance, a common human trait. Too often it was easier to ignore our lack of intimacy rather than address it. We found ourselves growing apart because of the cancer
diagnosis and treatment, rather than allowing the experience to bring us closer together. Based on conversations with other men and women impacted by prostate cancer, this happens frequently.
Fortunately, Steve and I kept exploring ways to improve our intimacy until we found what worked. I didn’t want to be like a woman I had met who had divorced after 16 years of marriage because of the isolation and lack of sexual fulfillment in her marriage. Our individual stories follow, along with five tips for reigniting passion for intimacy after prostate cancer.
It was May of 2007, early on a Friday evening at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. The mood of the group was festive as we were celebrating the retirement of a business associate.
I felt apprehension, as it was still late afternoon in Phoenix. I nervously anticipated a phone call from my urologist with my latest biopsy results. This was my third biopsy over a 15-year period. I had a history of an enlarged prostate and high PSA score ever since my first PSA test in my mid 40’s. When my cell phone vibrated, I quickly stepped into the ballroom foyer to take the call.
Dr. Bans let me know that the results of the biopsy were positive, indicating cancer had been found. Although no cancer is good, he explained that my cancer was a less aggressive form. This meant there was time to evaluate and select the best treatment method for my situation. I know he intended this information to be somewhat comforting, and it was, in a small way; though the fact
still remained…I had cancer.
Over the next few weeks and months, I worked closely with Dr. Bans, Cindie and a close friend to put a plan in place. I wanted to further understand and evaluate my situation, select a treatment option and undergo treatment. I ultimately selected surgery, and my prostate was removed six months later.
I asked Cindie to keep my diagnosis private. She resisted, but I insisted. I’m a private person and didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t realize, at the time, how painful she would find this seemingly
simple request. I wasn’t overly interested in sex after treatment. I’m embarrassed to say I just ignored our lack of intimacy. We lived a busy life and everything seemed okay. What I didn’t realize is that we were drifting apart and living more like roommates. I also didn’t realize how unhappy Cindie had become.
I didn’t engage a great deal in Steve’s search for treatment options. He answered my questions, I went to San Francisco with him for a second opinion and I met his surgeon once before the surgery. Early attempts to engage more with Steve didn’t work. He seemed to prefer to handle the situation
alone, so I gave up and went on with my life.
Initially we focused on Steve’s recovery, ignoring my growing unhappiness. After all, I didn’t have cancer and my body hadn’t undergone an intense surgical procedure. Although, after several quarterly zero PSA tests, I still found myself struggling in a relationship that didn’t work for me.
Steve’s diagnosis and treatment impacted me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I didn’t like myself after Steve’s recovery. I didn’t feel desired as a woman and my self confidence plummeted. Steve wasn’t interested in sex; something we learned later that is quite common in men treated for prostate cancer.
Eventually, I discovered that I had to address my issues if I wanted to find happiness. I would have to take the lead if I wanted to save our marriage. When I began to take responsibility for my situation and stopped blaming Steve, our relationship improved. When I got over feeling sorry for
myself and settling for an unhappy marriage, I discovered ways to take the initiative to create a life where Steve and I looked at sex differently than we did before prostate cancer.
Steve – Reigniting Our Passion for Intimacy
When Cindie and I began looking for ways to increase our intimacy, we started by defining sexual fulfillment. My definition included emotional closeness, physical intimacy and mental intensity. I used words like trust, passion, vulnerability, oneness and excitement.
Cindie used a technique called circle drawing to uncover her definition of sexual fulfillment. She discovered sexual fulfillment meant aliveness, freedom, becoming one with God and an opportunity to get to know herself better.
Cindie and I didn’t possess the skills necessary to reach sexual fulfillment, so we sought outside assistance. Cindie started an intensive study of men, improving her ability to communicate with me in order to get her needs met. We both uncovered destructive childhood patterns that required
We spent time with a tantrika, a woman who honors the beauty and fullness of sexuality and uses her knowledge to assist others. We learned how to move energy, the importance of slowing down and the necessity of scheduling time for intimacy.
Cindie and I also realized we each needed to go through a grieving process before we could completely heal and experience sexual fulfillment. We talked about our own mortality; the elephant in the room cloaked with our unspoken fears about death and being alone.
As we got to know ourselves better and took responsibility for ourselves—voila—we achieved sexual fulfillment and saved our marriage. Today we live a thriving life, filled with appreciation from our prostate cancer journey that brought us closer together than we had ever imagined. We followed
five steps to reignite the passion in our life and in our relationship:
• Grieve. Anyone impacted by prostate cancer experiences immense change. Change means loss, which goes hand in hand with grief. You need to go through the process of the five commonly accepted stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Then go through
the process of these emotions again. Your experience will be unique. You may skip a stage or bounce backand- forth between several stages. Cindie and I live in the acceptance stage most of the time, assisting each other to grieve more when needed.
• Explore different solutions. Rely on a combination of resources, both traditional and non-traditional, to achieve a fulfilling sex life. Traditional resources include your urologist, other medical professionals and the use of pharmaceuticals. Non-traditional resources include a
naturopathic physician, a psychologist, a hypnotherapist, a tantrika and a chiropractor. By balancing the benefits of high-technology Western medicine with the practices of a more holistic approach, Cindie and I ultimately achieved a more fulfilling relationship than we had ever imagined.
• Define and devote time to intimacy. Too often couples define intimacy as achieving a physical destination, i.e. an orgasm. Explore how you can broaden that definition. Learn how to look at your intimate relationship as a journey, one without a destination. You can do this best by scheduling intimate time together each week. Get to know each other’s bodies without an expectation of
orgasm. Use all five senses during your intimate time and slow down. Christie and I amazed ourselves at the increased levels of pleasure we experienced simply by slowing down and expanding our awareness.
• Excellent communications. You achieve high levels of intimacy results when you, as partners, share feelings rather than thoughts. Learn what makes a safe environment for each other to make sure feelings are shared easily. Recognize the different communication styles of men and women. When I learned to just listen to Cindie without fixing the problem, she relaxed and felt closer to me. When Cindie learned to get my attention and make requests using a specific formula, I began to
meet her needs every time.
• Believe in a thriving life. Know that you can do it. Commit to taking the journey. Be open to experiment. If you want a different result you must take a different action. You’ll find things that don’t work for you as a couple, stop doing them. You’ll also find things that do work for you in your relationship, so make sure you do those things more often. By doing this you’ll be creating the journey of a lifetime. Let Cindie and I know what works for you. Today, we celebrate Steve living cancer-free for more than four years. We also celebrate living a sexually fulfilled life.
Steve Frohman and Cindie Hubiak, co-founded Solutions For Intimacy™ to help men, women and couples get to the root of their intimacy struggles and enable them to live a sexually fulfilled life after prostate cancer. The program’s cornerstone – The Personal Approach – addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of intimacy.
Cindie recently published a book titled “A Woman’s Guide to Thriving after Prostate Cancer.” It helps women and men gain new ideas, understanding and skills from her journey through what’s typically considered a man’s disease.
They can be reached at 480-607-6850 or www.SolutionsForIntimacy.com.