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Staying Mindfully Connected and Experiencing Intimacy after a Cancer Diagnosis

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This webinar discusses key elements of how to stay connected, experiencing positive emotions and close relationships after a cancer diagnosis including side effects from treatment resulting in erectile dysfunction, reviewing evidence from neuroscience on data related to meditation and intimacy, and learning practical ways to live an authentic life connected with those you love.

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Staying Mindfully Connected and Experiencing Intimacy after a Cancer Diagnosis

  1. 1. Staying Mindfully Connected and Experiencing Intimacy after a Cancer Diagnosis. DR. GABRIELA ILIE PSYCHOLOGY PROFESSOR DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY, FACULTY OF MEDICINE HALIFAX , NOVA SCOTIA
  2. 2. Outline • Domains of intervention • The body-mind connection • Close relationships and sexual connection after a cancer diagnosis. • On the importance of physical touch • Practical solutions for erectile dysfunction • Cognitive reframing – is there another way to look at this? • 7 Mindful Attitudes for great sexual intimacy and connection for Men and Women in Ideal and less than ideal bodily circumstances • Towards a healthier, more positive relationship to sex • Developing kindness and love towards ourselves: seeing with mindfulness and authenticity • Intimacy • Examples • Summing up • Questions and Answers
  3. 3. DOMAINS OF INTERVENTION • We can intervene in three domains: • World (including relationships) • Body • Mind • All three are important. And they work together. • We have limited influence over world and body. • In the mind: • Much more influence • Changes stay with us wherever we go
  4. 4. THE MIND/BRAIN SYSTEM BRAIN MIND Ways in which the brain can change mind: For better: A little caffeine: more alertness Thicker insula: more self-awareness, empathy More left prefrontal activation: more happiness For worse: Intoxication: slower reaction time Concussion: can alter your personality, affects your mood and thinking Cortisol /stress-based shrinkage of hippocampus: less capacity for contextual memory
  5. 5. THE MIND/BRAIN SYSTEM MIND BRAIN Ways in which the mind can change the brain: Scan illustrates activity in the primary somatosensory cortex. This area is highly active during pain and rest. But activity is far less during meditation and pain. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2011
  6. 6. THE MIND/BRAIN SYSTEM MIND BRAIN Ways in which the mind can change the brain: Study revealed that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in 8 weeks. Harvard University, Lazar and colleagues (2005)
  7. 7. THE MIND/BRAIN SYSTEM • What flows through the mind sculpts your brain. Immaterial experience leaves material traces behind. • Meditation -> Increased blood/nutrient flow to active regions • Altered epigenetics (gene expression altered through thoughts and behaviours that promote self-healing and transformation)
  8. 8. Sexual intimacy after a cancer diagnosis • Masturbation • Improve your orgasm after surgery by doing Kegel/ • Pelvic floor exercises • Involve your partner – use physical and emotional intimacy to build up penetration or use sexual toys. • Oral medication for ED – even for a short time to give you the confidence and sexual potency you need • Have sex – with or without sexual penetration, use touching, intimacy • Cuddle and explore each other’s body even in the absence of sex. • Slow down, slow way, way down.
  9. 9. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICAL TOUCH • Literature review: positive gentle touch has a powerful healing effect (reduces stress, inflammation). • Hand on heart – breaks the survival response. Can pre-empt stress response altogether. • Oxytocin – direct and immediate antidote to stress hormone cortisol – Hormone of safety and trust, bonding and belonging, calm and connect – Brain’s direct and immediate antidote to stress hormone cortisol • ”A single exposure to oxytocin can create a lifelong change in the brain.“ (Dr. Sue Carter,)
  10. 10. A THOUSAND KISSES DEEP LEONARD COHEN You came to me this morning And you handled me like meat You'd have to be a man to know How good that feels, how sweet My mirror twin, my next of kin I'd know you in my sleep And who but you would take me in A thousand kisses deep I loved you when you opened Like a lily to the heat You see I'm just another snowman Standing in the rain and sleet Who loved you with his frozen love His secondhand physique With all he is and all he was A thousand kisses deep I know you had to lie to me I know you had to cheat To pose all hot and high Behind the veils of sheer deceit Our perfect porn aristocrat So elegant and cheap I'm old but I'm still into that A thousand kisses deep But I'm still working with the wine Still dancing cheek to cheek The band is playing Auld Lang Syne But the heart will not retreat I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray I never had their sweet But once or twice they let me play A thousand kisses deep I loved you when you opened Like a lily to the heat You see I'm just another snowman Standing in the rain and sleet Who loved you with his frozen love His second-hand physique With all he is and all he was A thousand kisses deep But you don't need to hear me now And every word I speak It counts against me anyhow A thousand kisses deep
  11. 11. PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Cant do the same thing over and over again and expect different results! Go from Mindlessness to Mindfullness. Start a Meditation practice. Practice Mindfulness – paying attention, being in the present moment Slow way, way down. Remember that where your attention goes, your energy goes. Give yourself permission to relax and let go. Notice - be aware Stop Stress with Belly Breathing. Reassure yourself – she/he is having a good time=I am having a good time Mirror neurons! That is why the porn business is a trillion dollars industry. People watch others have a good time because it helps them have a good time.
  12. 12. Bringing attention back to HERE & NOW Your partner is in front of you right now Letting go of the tendency to escape from being in the present moment Direct experience beyond concepts Enjoying your senses – stay curious in a child like mind state Schedule a play day; schedule a silly date Experience without editing or exaggerating Awake from social conditioning and engage in new activities that awake your senses: take dance lessons, PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION
  13. 13. COGNITIVE Reframing is there another way to look at this • Cancer diagnosis - just another part of my evolving sexual life • The reality is that sex changes for every man and every woman as they go through each decade of their life. • I could choose to see my cancer as part of this progression.
  14. 14. 7 MINDFUL ATTITUDES FOR GREAT SEXUAL INTIMACY AND CONNECTION FOR MEN AND WOMEN IN LESS THAN IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCES Non-Judging Patience Beginners Mind Trust Non-striving Acceptance Letting go
  15. 15. 7 MINDFUL ATTITUDES 7 MINDFUL ATTITUDES FOR GREAT SEXUAL INTIMACY AND CONNECTION FOR MEN AND WOMEN IN IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCES Non-Judging Patience Beginners Mind Trust Non-striving Acceptance Letting go
  16. 16. WE NEED TO HAVE A HEALTHIER MORE POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP TO SEX • Orgasm – negative connotations, yet a normal part of life • Orgasm is a process controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This is a part of the nervous system that deals with the things we don’t consciously control. Like digestion, heart rate and sexual arousal • - examples in the scientific literature: in vitro • You don’t need genitals to have an orgasm – paraplegics; eyebrows stroke; brushing teeth. • Could stimulate an orgasm reflex on a dead person’s body
  17. 17. • When we are mindfully looking we are really looking inwards and we begin to truly see. • What do you truly see with no “guards” or “shields” – when you just look within? • How many of us, after a cancer diagnosis, are just “waiting to be inspired”? • What ever the answer – if it comes from an authentic place – is the perfect place to start. • Authenticity – remarkable attributes of cancer survivors (Rob Rutledge and Tim Walker, The Healing Circle; Kelly Turner, Radical Remission: The Nine Key Factors That Can Make a Real Difference; Bernie Siegel, Love, Medicine and Miracles; Antony de Mello, Awareness) – Don’t deny your true feelings. This is not about “putting up a happy face”. Allow what you're actually feeling, rather than fighting against it. And then permit the thoughts and feelings to simply pass on through, with acceptance and without judgment. Key elements leading to true connection We need to develop a healthier more positive relationship to our sense of self Seeing with mindfulness and authenticity
  18. 18. “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the spirit that lives within” Rumi Key elements leading to true connection
  19. 19. Do you want a place to start? • Take a mental “picture” of yourself and stay with it. See what you see. Because seeing is always about what you see within. • Looking “hearing or seeing” is photographing with your heart. • Take a mental “picture” of someone you love and stay with it. See what you see. Remembering that seeing is always about what you see within. • Can you step away from what is within you and “truly” see this other being? What do you see then? • Don’t be afraid to look. And look fully, with your inner eyes fully opened. Be present, be mindful, be aware. And let go of wanting to see it your way. Key elements leading to true connection
  20. 20. Bring your whole being in the present moment and present yourSelf
  21. 21. Mindful presence meditation • Find a meditation routine that helps you get in touch with your authentic self. A routine that speaks to you in ways you can accept and understand. – Deidentification: I have many emotions, thoughts, memories, accomplishments, ways of being – and I am not my emotions, thoughts, memories, accomplishments, ways of being. I am a center of pure awareness, consciousness and choice. • The raisin meditation. Just as there is so much flavor in one raisin… there is so much beingness and fulness in You. – Find ways to express kindness towards self » Ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian practice of full responsibility, reconciliation, healing and forgiveness
  22. 22. Mindful presence meditation • Self-affirmations: – May I be kind to myself in this moment – May I accept this moment exactly as it is – May I accept myself in this moment exactly as I am – May I give myself all the compassion I need to respond to this moment wisely
  23. 23. Practice mindfulness • If and when you notice negative thoughts and emotions, don't struggle to suppress or change them, and don't act them out either; instead, simply experience them and let them be. • Allow what you're actually feeling, rather than fighting against it. And then permit the thoughts and feelings to simply pass on through, with acceptance and without judgment.
  24. 24. Close relationships after a cancer diagnosis - Intimacy - • Yes, they are possible. • Key elements to experiencing connectedness remain the same no matter the outer form: presence, authenticity, self-seduction, • Understanding Intimacy and various types of intimacy that exist – Emotional, spiritual, intellectual, financial, sleep, unconditional, aesthetic, play,/recreational, work/task driven, sexual
  25. 25. Some examples of Connection exercises
  26. 26. Soul gazing • This is an intense exercise that will help you and your partner connect on a deeper level. It can have a huge impact on your sense of connectedness, but it’s not for the faint of heart! • To try this exercise, face your partner in a seated position. Move so close to one another that your knees are nearly touching, and look into each other’s eyes. • Hold eye contact for three to five minutes. Yes, you can blink. No, you can’t talk. • If the silence is uncomfortable, choose a song that is pleasant to both of you or meaningful in terms of your relationship and hold eye contact until the song ends (Gray, 2014). • Practice this exercise a few times a week to deepen your connection with your partner.
  27. 27. Unstructured activities • Is there something you can do together, • Is there something you can do regularly, • Is enjoyable (or at least not unpleasant) for both people, and • Is there something that allows you to communicate in a healthy and productive way.
  28. 28. Communicate through Music • Share music that resonates deeply with your personal life story, reflects your thinking/your current state of mind, articulate some of your most deeply held beliefs. Express who you are thought music and let the other see you and experience yourself thought this auditory means of communication.
  29. 29. Communicate through movies • Share a movie that resonates deeply with your personal life story, reflects your thinking/your current state of mind, or where you are coming from, or that articulate some of your most deeply held beliefs. Express who you are thought a movie or a video and let the other see you and experience yourself thought this visual and auditory symbol of communication.
  30. 30. Communicate through books • Share a book that had a deep impact on your life and your thinking or that resonates deeply with your personal life story, reflects your thinking/your current state of mind, or where you are coming from, or that articulate some of your most deeply held beliefs. Express who you are thought a book and let the other see you and experience yourself thought this visual symbol of communication.
  31. 31. Uninterrupted listening • Another simple but powerful exercise is called Uninterrupted Listening, and it’s exactly what it sounds like (Gray, 2014). We all need to feel heard, understood, and cared for, and this exercise can help both you and your partner feel this way. • Set a timer for this exercise (three to five minutes will usually do the trick) and let your partner talk. They can talk about whatever is on their mind – work, school, you, the kids, friends or family, stress – it’s all fair game. • While they are speaking, your job is to do one thing and one thing only: to listen. Do not speak at all until the timer goes off. Simply listen to your partner and soak it all in. However, while you may not speak during this time, you are free to give your partner non-verbal encouragement or empathy through body language, facial expressions, or meaningful looks. • When the timer goes off, switch roles and try the exercise again. You may find that one partner is much chattier than the other, but don’t worry – this is totally normal.
  32. 32. The Weekly CEO meeting • This exercise provides you and your partner with an opportunity to interact as adults (no kids allowed) and without distractions (no phones, tablets, or laptops allowed). • Schedule a non-negotiable chunk of time (30 minutes is a good default) once a week for you and your partner to talk about how you both are doing, your relationship as a couple, any unfinished arguments or grievances, or any needs that are not being met. • You can start the exercise with questions like: – How do you feel about us today? – Is there anything you feel incomplete about from this past week that you would like to talk about? – How can I make you feel more loved in the coming days? • The answers to these questions should lead you and your partner in a healthy and productive discussion about your selves and your relationship. Make sure to do this regularly to keep on top of any issues and ensure that things don’t get swept under the rug or put on the back burner for too long (Gray, 2014).
  33. 33. What are you grateful for? • Another quick and easy exercise, this exercise can be engaged in anywhere the two of you are together. You only need your words and your imagination! • List five things you are grateful for that involves your partner and/or your relationship • You could have one partner go first and list all five things, or you and your partner could alternate saying one of your five things at a time. However you decide to do it, be creative and don’t afraid to get silly with your partner! • As an example, you could ask your partner, “What are five things that you love that I have done for you lately?” • Their answers might be something like, “Taking out the trash, cuddling with me, buying me green apples because you know they are my favourite, and watching my favorite movie with me.”
  34. 34. Shared Qualities • List at least three answers for each: – Movies, books, or music we like… – We have fun when we… – As a couple, we’re good at… – As a couple, our weaknesses are… – Unique things we have in common… – Qualities we value in a person… – Three goals for our future…
  35. 35. Make a list of connection questions that are meaningful to you For example: 1. Is there anything I can do for you in this moment to help you feel more comfortable or loved? 2. How can I better support you in your life? 3. Is there anything I have done in the past week that may have unknowingly hurt you? 4. When you come home from work, what can I do or say that will make you feel the most loved? 5. Is there any kind of physical touch that I can engage in more that helps you to feel loved? 6. Do you think you will need more closeness or more alone time over the next couple of days? 7. Is there any argument that we had this past week that you feel incomplete about? 8. How do you feel about our sex life lately? 9. What are the main stressors currently in your life, and is there any way I can alleviate that stress for you, if only a small amount? 10. When do you find speaking difficult and how can I best support you through those moments? Declutter your relationship
  36. 36. Break convention – stepping outside of your comfort zone • Tell me something weird about yourself. • Tell me your favorite ice cream flavor. • Tell me a wonderfully random childhood anecdote.
  37. 37. Pregnancy planned or unplanned – issues to consider • Medical decisions become even more complex after cancer diagnosis. • If having children is important to you, one of the most critical things you can do as you're planning your treatment is talk to your doctor about your fertility options. • While the medical concerns have been addressed and you understand how your diagnosis and treatment will impact your parenthood then you also need to consider how you feel about becoming a parent. • Just as you may need to adapt your ways of intimately relating with another person you may need to adapt your definition of parenthood and ways in which you will relate with your children and help them raise. This discussion is beyond the scope of this presentation but I am happy to take questions.
  38. 38. Summing up • Mind, body, behavior connection leading to intimacy and connection • Importance of presence and mindfulness, kindness and compassion towards one self and reframing • Practical solutions to ED • Exercises and activities • Issues to consider moving forward
  39. 39. Questions and Answers THANK YOU!!
  40. 40. Canadian Cancer Survivor Network Contact Info 1750 Courtwood Crescent, Suite 210 Ottawa, ON K2C 2B5 Telephone / Téléphone : 613-898-1871 E-mail: jmanthorne@survivornet.ca or info@survivornet.ca Website: www.survivornet.ca Twitter: @survivornetca Facebook: www.facebook.com/CanadianSurvivorNet Instagram: @survivornet_ca Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/survivornetwork/ Dr. Gabriela Ilie: Gabriela.Ilie@dal.ca Website: HealingandCancer.org

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