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Friday 12th May 2017 is International Nurses' Day, a time to recognise hardworking nurses around the world and thank them for their care. To mark it, Lorraine, a Macmillan Online Support Professional, has written about her experience of nursing, helping patients post-treatment.
Lorraine is a Psychosexual Nurse Specialist who works with people who have sexual difficulties. This may be as the consequence of a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but not always. Lorraine has been a volunteer with Macmillan on Ask the Expert since October 2016.
I had always wanted to be a nurse and have never regretted my career choice. I trained at St. Bartholomew's School of Nursing in London, and for many years was a full-time Accident and Emergency Sister. I loved the job but my work/life balance changed when I had children. I then worked part-time in the Urology Research Department at St. George's Hospital, also in London. I loved being part of a team just as I did whilst caring for patients in A&E. This role eventually led me to develop a totally nurse-led clinic for men with sexual difficulties which I ran for several years within an NHS hospital. This job continued to be part-time, which enabled me to also care for my parents who had their own ill health. I now have my own private practice, am a trustee of the Sexual Advice Association, lecture nationally, and am a specialist advisor to various organisations and charities.
As a Urology Research Sister, I coordinated a drug trial for patients that involved assessing a tablet to help reverse erectile dysfunction (previously known as impotence). This is the inability to get an erection suitable for satisfactory sexual activity. This tablet was eventually named Viagra. It changed the way we manage this distressing condition worldwide.
At first I felt awkward and embarrassed to talk about erections and sexual function with patients. As patients became relaxed and at ease with me to discuss how they felt and about the impact it had on them or their relationship, I too felt relaxed talking to them. It made me see that there are many reasons, which frequently include ill health, that can have a huge impact on a person's sexual and emotional wellbeing. Individualised care is important; it's not always the case that taking a medicine alone will 'fix' the problem. I decided to qualify as a psychosexual therapist (sex therapist) and combine this with the care I provide as a nurse. Whether I see an individual person or a couple, if drug treatments or devices are being used I encourage discussion on the overall impact they may have. People may have their own myths and preconceptions about sex which I encourage them to talk about. As a sex therapist this may include talking about exercises people can do in the privacy of their own home to initiate intimacy when trying treatment drugs. It may also involve putting a hold on intercourse to take the pressure off a situation.
For over twenty years I have developed a particular interest in erectile dysfunction, especially seeing people before and after their treatment for prostate cancer. A cancer diagnosis can have an impact on a person's wellbeing, which includes sexual function. Being able to provide this individualised care is a real passion of mine. I also enjoy lecturing and supporting others in managing their patients to help obtain a fulfilling sex life. Let's break the taboo associated with talking about sex. I never hesitate to tell people what I do as hopefully this will help to break the barriers for patients seeking help. How my career has changed from those early days, but is still always so rewarding and enjoyable.
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