Live with Dr. Alexea Gaffney

Dr. Alexea uses her experience as a doctor and patient to help other patients cope with their illness. What does she have to say about sex and cancer treatment?

Woman in fMRI Machine

Do you follow Tickle.Life on Instagram? Did you watch the live chat with Dr. Alexea? I hope you did! But if you didn’t, read on.

Dr. Alexea Gaffney-Adams

Dr Alexa Gaffney is a well-known internist and paediatrician with special training in treating infectious diseases. In this position, she has helped many patients, who claim her warmth touched their hearts. She is also a breast cancer patient in active treatment. I am exalted by the will in Dr Alexea that kept her from being bogged down by the ailment. She says all kinds of sickness should be fought head-on, and likes to call herself a ‘Breast Cancer Thriver’ instead of ‘survivor’.

In sharing her journey as a breast cancer fighter, she has become the voice of reason and hope for others in the same situation.

She has the unique ability to see things from the perspective of a physician as well as a patient. This helps her explain the technical part of the treatment and also describe her emotional experience of battling against cancer at every stage. She believes this kind of conversation will benefit those who feel lonely and hopeless after their diagnosis. 

The overwhelming response from her audience only encourages her to go on. I am completely floored by her spirit; it’s infectious. 

Following is the gist of our conversation with her:

The power to help others while going through something serious:

It is easy to complain and make life miserable for yourself and for others around you. But Dr Gaffney tells her patients not to give in to the illness, or let it define them. She encourages them to get out of bed and do what gives them a sense of purpose, for as long as they can. And she practices what she preaches:

On receiving the diagnosis, she was certain not to allow cancer to overwhelm every element of her character. Instead of being identified solely as a cancer patient (or survivor) she chose to hold on to her identity and keep up her appearance. That motivated her to serve other people despite her own ill-health. When she was no longer able to go to work and take care of her patients, she began sharing her experiences and narrating her story to others, to help them believe that they are not alone in the struggle.

Counselling session
Medical procedures can be quite intimidating, especially with a stubborn disease like cancer. Dr. Gaffney hopes to ease some of this fear by being warm and empathetic towards patients.

She chose happiness every day of life and found reasons to show gratitude instead of being angry at the world for her condition. She says the more she focused on the good things, the less of an impact the illness had on her.   

The Impact on Family and Loved Ones:

She informed her family only when her breast cancer was confirmed. She faced the biopsies and mammograms leading up to the confirmation all by herself, in hopes that it would save her loved ones some misery. Further, she didn’t want to answer questions and deal with other people’s emotional fallout. In hiding the illness from her loved ones, she was, in a way, protecting herself too. 

On further reflection, however, she thinks that it hit her family harder. The benefit she had of easing herself into the notion of having breast cancer, due to the process of diagnosis, could not be availed by her family and friends. She regrets not having shared the news with her parents and siblings in the initial stages itself, and letting it fall like a thunderbolt in their lives. Her advice to others is not to make the same mistake.

“By keeping your family and friends posted about the problem right from the beginning, you give them time to accept the illness and grow into a pillar of support for you when you are unable to take care of yourself.”

She stresses on the fact that cancer patients do way better with a strong support system. It is extremely hard to take it all alone. So bringing loved ones on board early is best.

Impact on Sexual Health:

One’s sexual health is essential to their well being. Although it is dramatically impacted by illnesses and their treatments, sexuality gets sidelined and buried under the whole lot of other concerns.

Alexea, however, went to the oncologist with her sister, who asked the doctor about the effects of chemotherapy on the patient’s sex life. Her sister was assured that Alexea would be able to enjoy her sex life during and after the treatment. Although major sexual dysfunction did not occur during her treatment, she did go through some life-altering experiences that she was willing to share with us.

The first part of the treatment was the bilateral mastectomy. Alexea considered her breasts the physical manifestation of her femininity and was quite proud of them. She also knew that her breasts were an important source of sexual pleasure. Losing them was traumatic, despite her partner having assured her that it made no difference to him. She chose to get her breasts reconstructed for herself.

The second step was chemotherapy, which not only kills cancer cells but also benign cells. It causes hair loss, impacts the ovaries, and affects the release of sex hormones. These effects are in addition to feeling tired, sick and restless. Therefore, sex was no longer the same spontaneous act that it had been prior to the mastectomy. 

My take away from the chat with this superwoman was:

“In your life, you will face a multitude of experiences, both good and bad, but you are more than the sum of all that. No matter how bad the previous night was, just get up, dress up and show up. The show must go on and it better be a good enough one for others to look up to.”

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