The Ebbs and Flows of Sexuality After Having Cancer

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I’ve put off discussing this topic because I didn’t know how or where to start. But two days after Valentine’s Day or otherwise, it’s relevant. I want to come from a place of positivity, but truthfully, I can’t seem to get there right now. It was more than 8 years ago that I went through treatment for early stage breast cancer, which included a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction and chemotherapy. I was in a long-term relationship with a very kindhearted guy who never allowed me to feel anything “less than” the same special person he had always thought me to be. He was wildly attracted to me whether I had hair, didn’t have hair, was fit or a little less fit, had breasts or no breasts… then faux breasts. 

But all that aside, felt differently about myself, and it’s difficult to contend with being “you’re your own worst enemy.” I felt a little chipped away, as if I’d lost a piece of my sexuality and now had placeholders for breasts. Quite honestly, I still feel that way a bit.  I have no sensation and they do little for me other than fill space. They’re just there… a gentle daily reminder that I had cancer, but I fought and won because I’m fortunately still here after all. My self-taught trick, whenever I start to slide down that dark rabbit hole, is to quickly turn a negative into a positive. This isn’t hard for a cancer survivor to do... emphasis on SURVIVOR.

Cancer is a major event, and it brings with it the chance for growth. In many ways, I’m stronger for it. If you’re fortunate enough to survive cancer, you have a heightened sense of appreciation for each new day. I read somewhere that many cancer survivors say they were not prepared for the changes in their sex lives. Yeah, I was not prepared to feel so disconnected from my reconstructed breasts, but I made peace with it. 

In 2015 I had a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer due to having a BRCA1 gene mutation.I was 42 years old and catapulted into surgical menopause, not adequately prepared for the immediate and severe side effects I was experiencing – and with which I still struggle. If ever I had felt my sexuality chipped away before, well, now I felt gutted, like, ‘Stick a fork in me’ done. I honestly didn’t know what to do, as I’m not a candidate for hormone replacement therapy and I’m unwilling to take medications to “manage” the side effects.

So I manage the best way I know how, starting with cycling therapy! I ride my bike a lot, which does help my emotional state. There’s no substitute for a reasonably good diet and exercise, which allows me to feel better about myself, or at least that’s the idea and it’s a great start.

Sexuality encompasses so much more than sex; it includes the physical, psychological, emotional and social aspects of sex. In the real world, this means how I see myself, how others might view me, how do I date after having had cancer, and so much more. There’s no one answer, as cancer affects sexuality differently for everyone.

I’m still trying to figure it out and deal with the negative side effects of having my ovaries removed. It’s a challenge and I know I’ll get there at some point, though I wish it wouldn’t take so long and be so hard. But the truth is, everybody has gone through something that has changed them in a way that they could never go back to the person they once were. Life has a way of ebbing and flowing, and right now the tides are low. I’m optimistic that they’ll rise again. Wish me luck!

One more thing. If any of what I’ve written here resonates with you, make sure you are talking about it with your healthcare providers, loved ones and whoever else is in your support network! Talking about sexuality can be tricky, but we should still try to have that conversation if we need to.



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