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Ask the Expert: Sexuality and Intimacy with Erica Marchand, Ph.D.

Erica Marchand, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in sex therapy and


Erica Marchand, Ph.D.

relationship concerns, and a project scientist at UCLA Center for Cancer Prevention & Control Research. On Friday, February 19th she will present a Sexuality & Intimacy Workshop at the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara. For those who can’t make it to the workshop, Dr. Marchand was kind enough to provide the following tips for our readers.


Sex and intimacy are parts of life that can be disrupted by cancer. When you’re sick, you don’t feel sexy, and after cancer many people feel and function differently than they did before. The experience of cancer can change existing relationships or add new complexity to dating. If it’s important to you, maintaining or reconnecting with your sexuality in the face of cancer is possible. Here are some tips to achieve that:

  •  Broaden your definition of intimacy. You may be accustomed to swinging from the chandeliers, but if that’s not possible right now, can you identify types of physical intimacy that would feel good? It could be anything from a long hug to a foot massage to more sensual or sexual activities.
  • Talk to your partner about your needs and desires, and ask about theirs. See if you can come to mutual understanding of the kinds of intimacy you want right now.
  • Practice radical self-love. You’re been through a lot. The last thing you need is self-criticism about how your body looks or functions. Talk to yourself as you would a beloved partner or friend.
  • If you are unhappy with how your sex drive or sexual functioning has changed, try to identify the causes and address them. Help is available for many different concerns, but you may have to speak up and ask your doctor, or do some research on your own.
  • If you value intimacy with your partner but find that you’re rarely “in the mood,” consider “starting from neutral” — making a conscious decision to engage in sexual activity and allowing desire and arousal to build along the way.
  •  Many people who are dating again after cancer find themselves self-conscious or worried about telling potential dating partners. If this is you, try to think of cancer as one facet of your life experience, rather than the defining thing about you. Remember that you are assessing other people too, to find a good match, rather than thinking too much about how others might assess you. If you’re wondering when to tell dating partners about your cancer, you might wait until you feel some level of “friendship and attraction” before broaching the subject.
  •  Identify things that you love about your body and focus on those.

Learn aboutupcoming educational and support programs offered by the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara on our calendar page.

Make a difference for people with cancer and their loved ones by making a donation to the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara.


Kids Circle Spotlight: Henry’s Story

We would like you to meet a remarkable young man named Henry. A member of the Kids Circle group at Cancer Support Community, Henry is wise beyond his years, a compassionate friend to his fellow group members who all have families affected by cancer, and an all-around fantastic kid! 

Henryas charliesummer2015

Henry loves theater and is pictured here as Charlie Bucket in a 2015 production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“Henry is exceptional in so many ways,” says Kids Circle Facilitator Joyce Boucher, LCSW, LMFT. “He is creative, emotionally open and very empathetic. When a child in the group loses a parent, Henry shares his wisdom: your parent may not make it but you will. Knowing Henry has been a gift. He teaches me about being resilient and about healing.”

In 2014 Henry bravely and generously shared his story with a large audience at the Cancer Support Community Gala. It made quite an impact and, for those of you who did not get a chance to hear it, we have included it below.

Since his speech at the 2014 Gala, Henry has continued to grow and thrive. Now age 13, he is the President of his eighth-grade class and still enjoys attending Kids Circle at Cancer Support Community each week. He loves theater and recently played Charlie Bucket in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here is Henry’s speech from 2014:

Henry at Beach 012016

Henry on a visit to see his sister at UC Santa Cruz

When I think of my father, I imagine his massive arms.  Arms that used to swoop me up and float me high in the clouds so I felt like I was flying.  Arms that taught me how to cast a fishing line with a flick of the wrist.  Arms that steadied my bike when I first learned to ride and comforted me when I fell off and ate dirt. Surprisingly my father’s arms- that seemed as large as Popeye’s in size, were no match for my super-powers when we wrestled and played dinosaur and I won.

This all changed the day my mom told me my dad had acute leukemia. I was supposed to go to my friend’s birthday party but we had to skip it and go to the hospital.   It was on that day, that I sat next to my dad while the doctors inserted a line in my father’s arm to receive chemo.  They explained that he would have to live in the hospital, go through chemo, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.  I remember being told to stay hopeful, but what I really felt was chaos and confusion– wishing that I wasn’t contemplating cancer but instead eating cake with my friends.  Wishing I had friends or teachers who I could talk to about being scared of losing my father.


Henry celebrates Christmas with close family friend (and CSC Board of Trustee member) Virginia B Kreuzberger.

For the next six months, my experience with cancer was a realization that I did not know what was going to happen.  There were amazing moments – when Matt Kemp visited my father in the hospital and left me a gift basket.  Fun moments- when our friends Karen and Julie decorated my father’s hospital room and we held a New Year’s party.  Moments filled with play- when my dad and I went bowling in a mock bowling alley they made for us in a hallway at City of Hope.  There were moments of happiness- when my dad taught me to quilt in his hospital room so that we could work on a project together…. to the moments of fear and not knowing if he was going to survive because he was so weak he could barely lift his arm to hug me or say my name.  And then there was the moment to which there is no words- the day I lost my father to leukemia after his seven months battle with cancer.

I remember very little about that day, except that it was a Tuesday and I asked my grandparents to take me to attend Kid’s Circle at The Cancer Support Community.  I walked in and Joyce hugged me and I shared what had happened and I ate a snack.

Henry with John 2Since the beginning of my father’s illness, I had been going to Kid’s Circle each week. In Kid’s Circle everyone has a family member with cancer so we all feel the same and safe to talk about it with each other.  It was so weird the first day but after a while I became a part of the community. Little did I know the first month I attended Kid Circle that it would later become the highlight of my week.  It’s a place for me to share my fears, my feelings, and ask my questions.  Equally important, it is a place that allows me to be happy and play, when everyone around me was grieving.  In Kid’s Circle we first meet and do a check-in to discuss what’s happening to us.  Kids share the emotions and highlights of the past week.  Afterwards, we work on projects.  Each week is a different project.  Some of my favorite projects have included making a journal of questions, creating a talking stick, and designing hand puppets.  Often we have special visitors such as the Spring Chickens Improv Group, a dance instructor, the Knotty Knitters, or Karaoke.  At the conclusion of Kid’s Circle, we form a circle and hold hands and take a moment to breathe and relax.  Then we choose a topic and each say a word that comes to mind.  When I think about the Cancer Support Community, the word that comes to my mind is ‘friendship’.

Henry with John 1It’s been two and a half years now since I started attending Kid’s Circle weekly. When I think back on my experience with my father having leukemia, I realize that neither my father nor any adult in my life promised me that he would be ok, yet they’ve helped me believe and realize that I can be ok.  Kid’s Circle is special to me because they have shown me that although the loss of my father is tragic, I can once again grow to be hopeful and happy in my life through the love and support of my mother, sister, family, friends, and the Cancer Support Community. That it ok to once again enjoy life.   This is something my father asked of me before he died- to live life to the fullest each and every day. To grow to appreciate and once again experience the beauty, love, and happiness each day brings.  Thank you Joyce and Kid’s Circle for helping me keep this important promise to my Dad.

To make a donation help fund our support groups (like Kids Circle) for people affected by cancer, click here