Breast cancer and its treatments can have a significant effect on body image sex and relationships. Naomi Thomas shares her experience.
When I was first diagnosed with primary breast cancer I’d only just got together with my partner. I was concerned about whether this would have a big impact on how he’d feel about me. I gave him the option to walk away but he stuck around. He was fantastic.
Losing my hair was a big worry but within a few months I also started to put on weight – a lot of weight – and I didn’t feel myself. It was after my secondary diagnosis that it began to have an even bigger impact on my body image. I hadn’t lost weight after treatment the first time and then I fell pregnant straight after treatment ended. Six days after my little boy was born I was told the cancer had spread. I was nervous. How was I going to cope with cancer and a baby?
It had a massive impact on my relationship with my partner. I had my ovaries removed as a preventive measure. That was the point that had the biggest effect on our relationship – being a menopausal woman at an early age. It made having sex very painful.
A lot of women go through these experiences but are too scared to say something so they make up excuses not to sleep with their partner.
I had a lot of problems with my portacath. It was hard to even sit and have a cuddle because it hurt. When you’re being intimate and saying ‘Don’t touch that’ ‘That hurts’ it’s difficult for both partners. For my husband a sexless marriage was a big deal and we had to learn that our relationship couldn’t be based on sex entirely.
I went to my GP who didn’t seem to know or care about the side effects of having your ovaries removed. I don’t know if I would have had them removed if I’d known it would have such an effect on my sex life.
Where do you find help?
In the end I went to Relate with the idea of having psychosexual therapy and was referred by them to a specialist. I was able to get help with exercises I can do and tablets I can take.
A couple of years without sex is a long time. It’s not my fault and it’s not my husband’s fault – it’s having all these treatments that are making me menopausal. In the grand scheme of things sex isn’t the most important thing because I’m alive but it is important.
Doctors should feel comfortable talking about it so that people can open up.
I had to do all my own research. I’ve used the Breast Cancer Care Helpline to talk to one of the nurses. They gave me advice on creams I could talk to my doctor about. When you walk into the doctor’s surgery and say ‘I’ve been looking on Google’ you sense the reaction is: ‘Here we go.’ But it’s the only way I’ve been able to get help. It shouldn’t be like that.
I’d say to anyone in my position: don’t be scared to go to your doctor. But go armed with your own information and be persistent. Nobody should have to suffer with these symptoms – don’t let your relationship suffer too.
I took part in research for Breast Cancer Care’s My body myself report on body image. I’m passionate about the subject of body image. I wanted to get involved and change things for people now and in the future.
Content created July 2014; next planned review 2016