#SexColumn: Intimacy after breast cancer
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By Sharon Gordon
Johannesburg - I’m sure you’ve seen all the pink ribbons about. If you don’t know what they mean you may not have been affected by anyone with Breast Cancer. It is a terrifying disease for men and women alike.
October is Breast Health Month. It is the month we raise awareness and highlight that it could happen to anyone.
If you haven’t had the girls checked recently this is a reminder to get it done. It could save your life. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is traumatic enough but the devastating effect it has on your body is not the only fight you have on your hands.
For a detailed example of how to check your breasts please go to our blog.
Unfortunately, intimacy and sex are often also casualties in the war against cancer.
Breast cancer management often includes surgery, (a lumpectomy or mastectomy), radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy and hormone blockers. Obviously, all these treatments have side effects that have to be managed, combined with this the patient and her partner’s emotional aspects of dealing with a life-threatening illness.
I recently read an article by a breast cancer survivor who said that the only time she cried was when her hair fell out. I cannot imagine how awful this must be.
Most patients are too involved with survival in the initial stages of treatment to worry about sexuality. After a few months, you may be ready to restart their sexual relationship only to find that it’s lost in action.
So here are a couple of tips to help you recover.
Let me start by reminding you that you are not alone, your partner will step up and there are many groups and organizations you can turn to for help.
Your partner may not have the disease, but he is also affected by the diagnosis.
His fear levels may not be as high as yours, but I can guarantee that he is terrified of loosing you and has no idea of what the future holds for him and the family. He doesn’t know how to approach you, touch you or talk to you. In many ways this disease can finish off or strengthen your relationship. The decision is yours.
Many men report that they don’t want to cause embarrassment or pain which is why they avoid physical contact.
We naturally jump to the worst conclusion and thinks it’s because he no longer sees us as a woman and finds us unattractive and so the vicious cycle begins. This happens when we are perfectly normal but its exacerbated when we are ill or in the process of fighting breast cancer.
Any cancer treatment will leave you feeling depleted. You may lose your hair and have a mastectomy. Reconstruction is an option open to many it is not always available to every survivor.
Chances are you will experience menopausal symptoms and if you have had a bone marrow transplant chances are you will develop ulcers on the vagina walls. It sounds and is painful. It can be managed with the use of a very good lubricant. Pjur does one called Repair Gel. I recommend it for women with menopausal symptoms but speak to your doctor and see what they say. Don’t be shy!
Before you lose heart, be patient, help is at hand and remember that this too shall pass.
Sexual health is an important component of everyone’s overall health. Research has shown that those of us who are sexual have higher quality of life scores than those who don’t, which in turn helps speed up the healing process.
Retaining intimacy in your relationship both during and after Breast Cancer diagnosis is critical to your recovery.
Having sex again may be daunting but the first step is coming to terms with your own body.
A difficult task for even the healthiest of us, but you have to develop a positive view of your naked self and you have to include your partner in this journey. If you shut him out, you may find he is not with you at the end. I can promise you one thing – he is as scared as you!
The ideal is that you remain confident and accept your scars. This may be really difficult at first so you may want to start with covering them up with gorgeous sexy lingerie even if you don’t feel like it. Sooner or later, you are however going to have to face your naked self.
Ease into it with mirror therapy. Stand in front of a full-length mirror fully clothed and have a long, hard look.
Find 3 things that you like about yourself. When you are ready you can repeat the exercise and now remove a layer of clothes. Stand in your lingerie and finally do it naked. Examine every square inch. Cry if you want to but find those 3 things that you like about yourself. Concentrate on the positives.
The last stage in this exercise (and it may take months) is to let your partner participate. Let them be the full-length mirror. You have to let them look and touch and get over their own fear.
This is for your partner to read! Partners you need to react with care, touch if you want to and don’t forget to ask how it feels, and how it feels when you touch the scars.
She will feel like less sex than before the disease. Breast cancer slows the body down. Many women have little or no sex after diagnosis and during treatment. They just don’t have the energy and it is very normal.
Don’t let the myths of other people’s sex lives get in the way of yours. What you do have to do is talk about it.
Before attempting intercourse, it is important to feel comfortable, relaxed and aroused.
Concentrate on foreplay. Now is the perfect time to up your game and learn some new techniques. Arousal needs to be amplified so use aids like movies and sex toys or what about a bit of role play. Use buckets of lubricant and if penetration is still too painful remember some of the best orgasms are hand induced externally. No man ever said no to a great hand job either!
Try a new position, on your side with your back to him is a great one.
Practice getting into the mood yourself.
Determine how your body is feeling without him around, bring out your toys, it will help alleviate the fear of whether you can participate or not.
If your breasts used to be a big part of your play, you may have to find and explore new ways. Talk about the new sensations. Remember neither of you can read the other’s mind, you have to talk and if you don’t know how pick any subject and just start.
You may want to get third party assistance or write it down, whatever is easier for you but get it done! The old you is gone as is the old relationship. This is a good thing. You now have the opportunity to make it better, more intimate, more meaningful and more orgasmic but it is not going to happen if you don’t open your mouth and ask, tell and share. Beat the fear, start today.
If you need any help or want to contact an organization for support you are welcome to contact me on [email protected] – Lola Montez supports Pink Drive an NPO which supports breast cancer survivors and helps disadvantaged communities with mammograms.