Each survivor has a different experience of the sexual healing process. Every journey brings its own challenges through various treatment options.
I only hope to share the experiences I have gone through with honesty and openness, without being graphic, and tell some of what other survivors have shared with me about their experiences.
All those months spent in treatments have left you sore, unable to move and fatigued. And no matter how many times you promised you wouldn’t let your sex life take a back seat, it inevitably does just that.
Most people figure out new ways to feel intimate. Some reconnect with snuggling, back rubs or spending time talking; while others find they still enjoy foreplay and continue with that as their main source of pleasure.
One of the most comforting acts of intimacy for me during treatments was to fall asleep holding hands.
Yet, the time has finally come to reconnect sexually and that can feel awkward to some people after such a long time of not engaging in sex.
Imagine the scene: hubby is already in bed, lights are off and you step out of the shower, which is a feat considering the achy joints, and catch your reflection in the mirror.
There before you stands a woman with short hair barely covering her baldness; breasts that either don’t exist, are “fake” and hard due to expanders or have been replaced by implants; scars all over your body; a nice “suntan” from radiation, or worse, open blisters; lumps, bumps and sunken places where young breast tissue used to be but now there is a hole being filled with scar tissue.
And if, by some miracle, you can push those thoughts out of your head, you climb into bed next to the one person that has seen you at the absolute worse.
And, because you are desperate to regain sexual intimacy, you begin to engage physically with your spouse.
Quickly, you realize that you are in a mental and emotional tug-of-war. Pulled between desire to share closeness yet fighting the thoughts that you aren’t feminine enough or appealing to your spouse.
And, no matter how many times he says that you are beautiful and he is aroused to be with you, you will still wonder if your appearance is undesirable.
Because somewhere inside you know that if you are struggling with the image in the mirror, then certainly he is struggling, too.
If you can somehow overcome the mental battle, you will then encounter in what seems like a cruel physical joke.
Remember the dryness from early menopause? Yep, now you have to deal with that. And no matter what product, or how much of it you use, it just never seems to help.
One survivor likened it to the inside of a cardboard tube; she genuinely felt sorry for her husband.
Since you have probably spent several months finding other ways to connect and not actually engaged in sexual activity, there is likely some pain involved.
Oh, and don’t forget your achy joints. It makes it difficult to get comfortable and try to enjoy yourself.
Every time his hand brushes across a scar, which you won’t feel because of the severed nerves, you wonder how he can possibly want to be with you.
Speaking of severed nerves, foreplay will now be more for his pleasure than for you because you can’t feel anything.
And, you may feel embarrassed if you don’t know you are being touched. You may not even know if your body is responding to being touched.
Sometimes your body will respond and sometimes it won’t; yet another source of embarrassment.
And for those that have had mastectomies, with or without reconstruction, there are no longer any nipples. And, again, even if you have surgery to create nipples, there won’t be any sensation for you.
Yet, with all of these challenges, becoming sexually active after cancer treatment is a reality.
Open, honest conversation may be difficult, but it is the key to understanding each other. Taking it slowly and having patience with each other is also crucial.
With lots of love, understanding and practice, sex does become more frequent and easier to participate.
Just like with everything else after treatments, there is an adjustment phase and eventually it just becomes a normal part of your life again.
Becoming sexually active after cancer treatment is definitely one of the more difficult tasks to work through. It is different for everyone.
Please don’t compare yourself to another survivor.
I invited other survivor friends, and their husbands, to write about their experience and share it with us; mostly because they either had a bi-lateral mastectomy, reconstruction or are single- not in relationship.
Most of them have declined, not able to share about the painful struggles of intimacy after breast cancer.
Understandably, many husbands have a difficult time stating it is hard for them to deal with, too. They want their wives to know they love and support them.
To share their struggles could be perceived as unloving or uncaring. I respect their decision; and understand their concerns.
I have connected with another survivor via our blogs and she has agreed to share her post with us, titled “Over-Sharing About Lady Parts”. Thank you Kara for sharing your journey with us.
I now extend an open invitation to any survivor and/or their spouse that would like to share with us your sexual healing process after breast cancer treatment.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And, thank you, for sharing with us.
**This is part five of a multi-part series. You can read the other articles here:
The Healing Process of Survivorship-Part One
The Healing Process of Survivorship-Part Two: Emotional
The Healing Process of Survivorship-Part Three: Mental
The Healing Process of Survivorship-Part Four: Physical
The Healing Process of Survivorship-Part Six: Spiritual
BreastCancer.org: Breast Cancer and Intimacy
American Cancer Society: Sexuality After Breast Cancer
Susan G. Komen: Sexuality and Intimacy
Thank you for sharing on such a private and personal experience. Your journey opens up doors for other people to begin talking about their pain and fears as well. You are a strong brave women!
Have you heard of a project called “Share those moments”? AnneMarie has gathered over ninety stories from women and about ten from partners. You might find it really interesting. We’re also starting a series on the challenge of sex over at Facing Cancer.ca as well.This is a big deal – good on you for sharing. ~Catherine