Reader Question: Breast Cancer and Sex

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question, and then give my thoughts and invite you to chime in as well.

Here’s a rough one:

I was diagnosed [a few years ago] with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy followed by radiation.  Our sex life was wonderful after that.  My wonderful, Christian husband stood by me and always made me feel like I was so precious.  My breast were scarred but still intact and still a great source of pleasure for my husband and for me.  We assumed cancer was behind us and then [recently] I was diagnosed again with cancer this time in both breasts and the recommendation was that I have a double mastectomy.  I chose to have reconstruction surgery and my husband again stood by me.  While my plastic surgeon was pleased with his work I have never been comfortable with what I low look like, I would say my chest is now a hot mess.

I was devastated that something that gave my husband so much pleasure was now gone along with our sex life.  He never asked for sex anymore and I never initiated it.  I wouldn’t let him see me without clothes.  I just hate my body. I have suspected that my husband had started watching porn and this past month I have confirmed that with a discovery on our family computer.  It was left open and thank goodness I was the one who found it not our children.

I have confronted him and he of course says he is done, through, over it.  He says it’s something he watched “occasionally” until a couple of years ago and now he watches almost every Friday and Saturday night.  We have started having sex again because I want to feel connected to him.  We both want this marriage.  We love each other, our life and our family.  He has agreed to stay off the computer and come to bed when we do.  No more staying up late by himself.

Where do we go from here?  I know our lack of sex has contributed to this and I do not feel blameless but part of me says did he not want sex because he was more interested in his videos?  Was he repulsed my body?  I can’t have porn in our home with our kids.

What a difficult situation! I’ve lived with breast cancer in my family, too. Oh, God, may we find a cure soon.

I think here we need to separate the two issues: the porn and hating your body.

When sex gets difficult, people often turn to what seems easy

It’s actually quite common to fall into porn use during these traumas in our lives. We want to feel like we are still sexual, and it’s an easy way to escape the cares of your daily life.

At the same time, it obviously is not something you can tolerate. It’s a sin; it will hurt him; and it will hurt your marriage. And it definitely can hurt your kids if they see! I’ve written at length on how to handle a husband’s porn use; you can see all of those posts here (just scroll down to the right question).

Share your grief

Once the porn is dealt with, you need to take a look at how you now see your body. You’ve suffered a horrible trauma. You’ve lost something that was precious to you. It is absolutely okay to grieve that. And, in fact, it’s probably easier if you both can grieve it together.

Part of the problem when we go through something like this is that we stop communicating. We’re afraid of telling our husband what we feel, because we’re afraid of the rejection he may echo back to us. And he’s afraid of telling you how he feels, because he’s afraid of hurting you. And you’re both scared of the future.

It sounds like what has happened is that you’ve both tried to deal with this alone, and it hasn’t worked out really well. Likely what you need to do is just start talking again.

Start small–go for walks, talk about work, talk about the kids, pray together about little things. And then start talking about more deep heart issues. Maybe even take turns just hearing each other out–you talk for five minutes about what you’re grieving while I hold you and I don’t interrupt, and then we’ll switch.

Learn to Love Your Body

I truly believe that the first step in loving your new body, even if it’s not your old body, is in finding that deep emotional and spiritual intimacy first. Once you’ve both been able to have a good cry together, and you’ve been able to yell at God together, you’ll feel closer. And that closeness will long to be expressed sexually.

At heart, sex is intimacy. It isn’t just two bodies joining together; it’s two souls joining together. The more you can feel like one SOUL, the more you will want to feel like one BODY.

That may take some time, because you have to let him actually see you. That’s hard when you don’t like being naked in front of him. But start with talking, and then low candlelight, and see where things go.

And remember–sharing what’s truly on our hearts boosts intimacy, it doesn’t break it. Keep honest, and keep open, and you’ll find that it gets easier to share again.

And now I’d really like to leave this one for other people to answer–maybe people who have been through something similar. How do you learn to love your body again when you’ve had surgery, or an injury? What steps have you taken? Please chime in and share your story. I think it would encourage so many readers.

Comments

  1. “While my plastic surgeon was pleased with his work I have never been comfortable with what I now look like, I would say my chest is now a hot mess.” – As someone who had plastic surgery on my breasts (reduction) I would encourage you to go back to your plastic surgeon to ask about revision surgery. You should be pleased with the results as much as your surgeon is! If you don’t want to go back to the surgeon who did your surgery, ask your gynecologist or family practitioner for another recommendation. I would also encourage you to check out http://www.breasthealthonline.com/ which is a wonderful supportive online community for women who have had breast surgery.

    • I had that same reaction, Holly. I know that doesn’t address the porn issue, but I do think that reconstructive surgery should not end with feeling unhappy with your body. I was very, very clear with my plastic surgeon (who works with many breast cancer patients) about what I wanted, and he listened.

      But I know other women who went to a surgeon and got talked into something they eventually didn’t like. And it can be fixed.
      J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Most Embarrassing Moments during SexMy Profile

  2. Melanie Jones says:

    Oh dear heart, my heart does squeaze for you! I myself am a breast cancer survivor. 5 years next April. I choose to have a double mastectomy right away because of the type of cancer I had. I was stage 4. I did chemo, lost my hair, had 7 operations including a full hystorectomy.
    All the while my husband stood by me. We still made love all through. A year later I found out my husband was viewing porn.
    At first I was devistated, then somehow I fell onto this blog. Sheila is wonderful. I suggest yoy go through her blogs on porn addiction and read them.
    Don’t give up. Pray. Love your husband.

  3. Breast cancer really does through one for a loop. I have friends who’ve had mastectomies and went with no replacements, reconstruction with other tissue from their body, and implants. I believe that all of them had to grieve the original parts they lost, even if they ended up with a body they liked. My heart goes out to this reader.

    I think your advice is sound, Sheila. Communication and community can go a long way toward dealing with the hardships of both a cancer diagnosis and porn involvement. I don’t excuse this husband’s action, but he may feel very sexually thrown off by what has happened to his wife’s body and unsure of his own potency in this new circumstance. Both sides need to talk and lay out what they desire instead.

    Saying a prayer for this couple–and like couples–right now.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Most Embarrassing Moments during SexMy Profile

  4. Perhaps some male Christian marriage bloggers can write posts about not succumbing to porn and dealing with this big issues in their marriages. I am so sad to read that husbands have turned to porn when their wives went through such an ordeal. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, forsaking ALL others…..remember those vows? I really am dismayed at reading here and on other blogs, facebook pages and message boards and even in my own marriage how quickly men turn to porn when the going gets a little tough rather than being upstanding men of God and leading their wives through such difficult experiences.

  5. From a fellow survivor. I was 28 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband and I had been married for 3.5 years, and we had no children. He never blinked when I was told I had to have a mastectomy- he’s been incredible through the entire ordeal and the aftermath. I chose reconstruction with my own tissue, using a new and highly specialized procedure (GAP flap). There were some issues due to my being underweight and lacking enough body fat, and I ended up not being pleased with the result, which made me self conscious- but my husband never minded. And most importantly, I was cancer-free. Two years later, we had our first son. I breastfed him with my remaining breast. Nearly 4 years later, we had our 2nd son, who I also breastfed. Once he was weaned, I ended up with a suspicious mammogram, and instead of the recommended biopsy, I chose to go ahead with a prophylactic mastectomy & another reconstruction using my own fat (another GAP flap). I was 36 this time. (No cancer this time, the suspicious spots were nothing. But I wanted the risk to be gone, and have never regretted the 2nd mastectomy.) This time, my surgeon had improved his technique, and the result was beautiful. So much so that when I expressed how much better the new breast was than his first reconstruction, he had me come in several months later and have the other side re-done to match (a DIEP flap this time, since both my buttocks had been used already, and after 2 kids, I had the belly fat available). That was 3 years ago, and the results are still amazing to me every day. I can’t say enough about DIEP and GAP reconstruction when done by highly experienced surgeons (mine were in New Orleans, it can easily be googled. They pioneered the procedure and even specialize in fixing botched reconstructions of all types), and how they can positively affect your body image after mastectomy.
    I’m not saying you need to do what I did, but I’m saying all this because: If your results with your surgery have left you unhappy, and it’s affected your body image to the degree you don’t feel comfortable with your husband, I would encourage you to seek another surgeon who is highly experienced, and get the results you want. In my understanding, insurance covers reconstruction until a satisfactory match is made with your remaining breast. I never had to pay anything beyond my yearly deductible, even for the 2nd go-around on my initial reconstruction, 9 years after. I hope & pray you can find a solution that makes you happy with your body again. Oh, how you deserve that!

    This doesn’t solve the porn issue, which is a whole other ballgame. How heartbreaking. I’m truly thankful my husband abhors porn or anything that would take his eyes or heart from his wife. I’m not bragging- trust me, because I’ve been where you are before, as my first husband was a porn addict, and destroyed our marriage before it ever really had a chance (we married and divorced young). My now-husband (of now 15.5 years) was my best friend for years before, and b/c of that friendship, I knew how he felt about porn and such before I ever even considered dating him. So my heart goes out to you there. I wish there was something I could do, but only he can change what he’s doing. Please don’t blame yourself or your body for what he’s done. No matter what your body has been through, his wrong choices are not about you, they’re about him. I hope he finds full recovery and freedom from the lie of porn. I’m so sorry, though, you have to deal with this after what you’ve been through.

  6. KellyK(@RNCCRN9706) says:

    I’ve not had breast cancer but did have kidney cancer which resulted in having a kidney removed. Thankfully, I had it removed laparoscopically which resulted in a 4 inch scar on my lower right side of my belly and 4 smaller scars on my upper belly near my belly button. Prior to that, I’ve had laparoscopic scars from having my gall bladder removed and weight loss surgery so my abdomen looks like a road map. Lol, it’s not pretty. I don’t scar well so there’s honestly no way to fix those scars so no bikini for me ever…lol

    I think you gave good advice Sheila. Keeping the woman in the email in my prayers!

  7. A man’s perspective:

    It is not clear why he stopped asking for sex. If he was aware how bad she felt about her body, he may have stopped asking to avoid causing her discomfort. Maybe he thought she would get past it, and he was waiting for her to let him know that.

    This in no way is meant to justify him allowing an occasional porn habit to become much greater – just trying to offer a plausible alternate idea to why he stopped seeking sex. I’ve heard this a number of times from men who’s wife is in some form or pain – he thinks not asking for sex is a loving gesture, and assumes she will ask if she wants it.

    • I agree. I have an unusual illness that can cause me to go into anaphylaxis from any physical exertion (including being intimate!), and I was frustrated that my husband wasn’t initiating as he used to. When I finally asked him about it, I was surprised to find out that he was just trying to be sweet by not pressuring me when I wasn’t physically up to it. So now the deal is that I initiate whenever I am able, and neither of us have our feelings hurt.

  8. angela mayberry says:

    I had a bilateral mastectomy 18 months ago due to breast cancer. I also had a hysterectomy (total abdominal) 3 months ago because of ovarian cancer. I know it is difficult to feel like you did before, but it can be done. I chose not to have reconstruction because of seeing lots of reconstruction gone bad. there are other options. I have prosthetics, they are heavy and you cant use them in satin nighties, but they do make soft ones that can be used. I have to say it takes time! it took me 18 months to be able to wear my prosthetics more then 4 hours. after surgery until I got used to being without I used a sports bra all the time and I always slept in a tshirt. it is going to take alot for you both to get used to. Number 1 go to breast cancer.org and join, it is free and you will find alot of support, also on facebook there is verious breast cancer groups check into it. and Number 2 it takes time to realize that your breasts do not define who you are! and number 3 god never hands you more then you can handle and he put you on this earth for a reason, and maybe through living and fighting through breast cancer you can use this to help someone else. I know I did. If your husband loves you the way he should losing your breast will be a bump in the road, but you will get through it.

  9. I had bc 7 years ago and had my breasts removed and reconstruction. I look pretty good in my clothes, but truth is, I miss my breasts. Its gotten better over the years and my husband has been kind, but it is a new kind of normal to get used to. I have just had to turn it around to gratitude for having my life spared and having something that was cured instead of a disease I have to live with every day of my life. The porn thing is a different ballgame and probably doesn’t have anything to do with your surgery, but it sounds like he wants to work on it and if you love him enough to give him a chance, go for it. Life is hard but Jesus is there, lean in, he will catch you.

  10. I am almost 10 years post cancer. The treatment was long and I lost one breast. I needed sexual attention and emotional closeness as much then as ever! During the chemo, radiation, and reconstruction surgeries we struggled. But by making sex a priority we got to a better place. It took time. Both men and women need to realize how important that connection is during illness.

  11. From Isaiah 63, speaking about what Jeaus will do:

    …to comfort all who mourn,
    3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
    to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
    the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
    and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
    They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

  12. My heart definitely goes out to you and all who are in this situation. I know some lingerie stores have bras and tanks that are specifically designed for post-mastectomy (Pampered Passions is one: http://www.pamperedpassions.com/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_in=all&search_str=mastectomy). Maybe finding something sexy or just something that fits your new body well could help you feel a little more comfortable.

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