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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Beyond Chemotherapy and Radiation

Winter 2014

Beyond Chemotherapy and Radiation

By: Karen Tong
Date: February 3, 2014

Cancer care for the heart and mind


Jennifer Barsky Reese, Ph.D., psychologist
Jennifer Barsky Reese, Ph.D., psychologist

When you’re living with cancer, some aspects of everyday life can change in unexpected ways—things that you used to take for granted can become challenging.

Emotional and sexual health are two important parts of cancer care. Psychologist Jennifer Barsky Reese, Ph.D., guides patients with cancer, and their family members, in strengthening their relationships and dealing with changes. “Keeping relationships strong can help people cope and recover,” says Dr. Reese.

Many factors influence emotional and sexual health during and after cancer treatment. For some, the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can make intimacy less of a priority. For others, physical changes from surgery or side effects from treatment get in the way. The fatigue that is associated with cancer treatment can lead to less interest and energy to engage in sexual intimacy. Some surgeries or other treatments directly impact sexual function and can make it difficult, impossible, or occasionally painful to be intimate.

Reconnecting After Cancer

Dr. Reese works with patients and their partners to address these challenges. “During the initial assessment, we talk about psychological factors, behavioral issues, and emotional and physical health. Together, we look at how depression, anxiety and relationship distress also might contribute to the patient’s concerns. Considering all of these elements helps me know where to focus to best help each person,” says Dr. Reese.

Some people are helped by learning coping skills or using simple sexual health aids that are low cost with no side effects, such as vaginal moisturizers and lubricants, to assist with vaginal dryness due to cancer therapies. Sexual therapy can teach couples to reconnect by helping them adjust to changes in their sexual relationship and allowing them to refocus on enjoying both physical and emotional intimacy.

Communication Is Key

“Communication about intimacy is one common challenge that many people with cancer face,” reveals Dr. Reese. Being able to express what you’re going through and what would help bring you closer together is part of the solution. Dr. Reese teaches patients skills and techniques to be more comfortable with their communication and affection.

“Maintaining or enhancing intimate relationships can affirm your vitality. It’s one way of feeling “normal” during a time when so much in life is changing and uncertain,” adds Dr. Reese. Not all patients experience negative effects of cancer on their intimate relationships; in fact, a number of couples report feeling that the cancer experience brought them closer together.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 410-550-6337.*

*Phone will be answered as Memory & Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. Dr. Reese operates her clinic within this Center.

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