Woman, 23, left unable to have sex after gruelling cancer treatment

A young British woman who underwent gruelling cancer treatment as a teenager has revealed it has left her unable to have sex.

Ellie Waters-Barnes, 23, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a soft tissue cancer, in September 2015.

What started as a “tiny lump” in her left buttock eventually grew to the point where it left Ellie constipated, tired unable to pee, The Sun reports.

At just 14, she underwent gruelling chemo and radiotherapy. After 18 months, she Ellie was in remission and able to return to school, however, one part of her body no longer felt “normal”.

“My vagina was sore – even wearing tight pants or sitting down for too long could be uncomfortable, and it was painful if I tried to examine myself,” she wrote in a piece published by the UK publication.

“My periods stopped because of chemo, but even if I’d needed to use tampons, it would have been impossible.

“I saw a specialist and was prescribed vaginal oestrogen, and within weeks I felt much more comfortable.

“Radiotherapy had caused tightening and scarring around my vagina, so I used dilators in the hope I’d be able to have sex when I found the right person.”

Despite taking measures to try and ensure she could have a sex life, Ellie soon discovered the act was incredibly painful after getting her first boyfriend in 2021.

“I felt nervous telling him what I’d been through, but he was understanding and I was overjoyed when we had sex,” she said.

“But it left me in pain, with swelling and blisters on my genitals.”

As a result, Ellie was referred to a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with vulval lymphangiectasia.

“She explained that, because of damage caused to the area by radiotherapy, lymphatic fluid wasn’t draining away like it should, so anything that increased blood flow – like sex – was only making it worse,” she shared.

“We continued having sex, but I kept getting infections and was in too much pain. I had to accept I’d never be able to have penetrative sex, which was devastating.”

Describing the situation as taking a “blow to my identity, my confidence and sense of worth”, Ellie explained it also left her feeling guilty for “caring about sex, when other cancer patients had lost their lives”.

“My boyfriend reassured me we could still be intimate, but in 2022 we split up,” she explained.

“I’ve found being in a relationship a constant reminder of what I can’t have – a normal sex life.”

Ellie, who describes herself as “happily single”, is now training as a doctor and hopes to specialise in gynaecology to use her experience to support other women and overcome taboos.

“I’m seeing a psychosexual counsellor to come to terms with my sexual dysfunction and increase my confidence to date in the future,” she added.

“You rarely hear the words ‘cancer’ and ‘sex’ together, but treatment for one can have a devastating effect on the other, and guilt and embarrassment silences people.

“If I meet someone else in the future, I’ll have to hope they’ll understand and be prepared to accept that a life with me won’t include penetrative sex.”

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