Breast cancer brings a myriad of decisions that must be dealt with in an immediate time frame. Time and energy have to be allocated to priority questions and choices about treatment. Often, there are other issues of no less importance that may lie dormant, or even be avoided, yet are still a source of worry and anxiety. Along with self-image, a woman often has questions or fears about sexuality and intimacy.
This important issue will likely surface at some point, whether a woman is single or in a relationship. How will my husband/partner react to the changes in my body? Will I still be attractive and desirable? Will I still feel sexy? Where did my libido go? What about dating - when do I talk about this to someone? Do I announce this at the first date or wait until intimacy is imminent? How have other women handled this? What impact will this have on a relationship? Often a husband or partner's reassurance does not allay these thoughts and doubts.
Many women say that they have difficulty discussing this topic with their healthcare provider. They may see signs that the doctor is uncomfortable with the topic or they may feel dismissed by an indifferent or humorous reply. A breast cancer support group can provide a safe, understanding environment for women to talk with other women about sexuality and breast cancer. Sharing and hearing about the experiences of other women can "normalize", educate and empower a newly diagnosed woman.
In fact, studies have shown that the most important thing to the partner of a woman with breast cancer is that she survive and feel better. These studies show that her physical appearance has more impact on the woman's sexuality than it does on her partner's desire. It is important to try to see the situation from the partner's perspective. Dr. Leslie Schover recommends this exercise: Close your eyes and imagine that it is your partner who has breast cancer. Picture your partner with the same body changes as yours - could you still make love to your partner? Could you enjoy sex? Would you stop having sex with your partner or end the relationship? Dr. Schover says that we judge ourselves more harshly than others do. Do not assume that your partner shares any of the negative feelings about the changes in your body that you do.
Couples can find a way to overcome any temporary sexual problems that may be associated with treatment. Communicating your needs, concerns and desires with each other is necessary. Individual or group therapy can be beneficial. Education and information can be invaluable in reassuring both partners that this is not permanent; for example, medication and fatigue can have a temporary impact on libido. With patience, understanding, and being gentle with yourself, you will find the way back to a positive and healthy intimate relationship.
Breast Cancer Web Surf Recommendation for the Month: Breast Cancer Lighthouse
Breast Cancer Book Recommendation for the Month: Sexuality and Fertility After Breast Cancer: Dr. Leslie Schover.