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Sex and Intimacy While Living with Cancer

No one told me that once I had metastatic breast cancer my sex life was likely to change. And since I was focused on surviving it wasn’t top of mind. Only after treatment did I realize the true “side effects”!

I was diagnosed with MBC in late 2014 at the age of 49. I actually felt lucky to already be in menopause, otherwise it would have meant one more monthly injection to put me into menopause.

When I did hear someone who would talk about sex after a diagnosis, it was medical practitioners talking about moisturizers and lubricants that can be used. While this is practical information it really wasn’t all that helpful.

I even went to an expert on women’s sexual health and unfortunately got no real help. She had nothing to offer me, but apparently, I taught her something new. I found Scream Cream to be a big help when I did engage in the act (note - get a prescription and find a compounding pharmacy like Empower Pharmacy). Hopefully that will help other women that she sees, and I’m happy to help, BUT still struggling to find my own help!

I struggled for years to find a way to get my “juice” back, but nothing worked. Maybe it’s cancer treatment, maybe it’s menopause, either way, it sucks. I’m dealing with vaginal atrophy and lack of libido. The loss of my libido is the biggest problem. I can find ways around the lack of vaginal moisture, but it's more difficult to find a way to feel like doing something I don’t feel like doing!

Sex was always really important to me and I had a high sex drive. I just couldn’t reckon with this new me. This woman who no longer felt like having sex was a stranger to me.

I fought this for years. I searched and searched and talked to every doctor or practitioner who would talk to me and many of them I talked to over and over again (and still do). I tried acupuncture. I tried the Mona Lisa Touch procedure (laser therapy to renew the collagen of the vagina). I tried all the moisturizers and lubricants. I tried supplements for increased sexual satisfaction that were reviewed and deemed safe to take by my integrative oncologist (Bonafide makes Ristela but I’m not sure I gave it enough of a chance. They also make Revaree which is a great, non-messy suppository for vaginal dryness that I highly recommend). Nothing worked to bring my libido back.

I finally gave up and thought perhaps by accepting this situation that maybe something would change. You know, surrender and acceptance. Well, acceptance is great but it didn’t change anything except the amount of time I spent pursuing this particular issue.

Then I heard a sex and intimacy therapist, Carolynn Aristone, Founder and Executive Director of Center for Intimate Relationships, LLC, say something I’ve never heard before. She said that we must first deal with the grief, the grief of the diagnosis and all that we have lost because of it. She also said it had to be dealt with as a couple and that both partners would have grief to process. That was a perspective that made a lot of sense.

I had long ago grieved the loss of my breast after my bi-lateral mastectomy in 2004, and my body image, due to the scars on my belly and breast from the reconstruction. I knew my body would never look the same again and I accepted that. Although, it made me wish I had worn bikinis in my youth instead of one-pieces that hid my scars from a kidney and appendix removal. Oh well, onward, not backward!

I went “back to normal” after the mastectomy, chemo and radiation. I bounced from chemo induced menopause and out again never losing my libido. But eleven years later I didn’t bounce back. I was in full on menopause and my sex life as I once knew it was over. Was it menopause, treatment, combo of both? Whatever it was it made me really sad.

Perhaps the grief work Carolynn recommended is what my husband and I need to do. Maybe then I could find more peace in this change and accept that I just need to schedule sex with my husband instead of wishing it would spontaneously happen!

After all, sometimes you get in the party mood only after you arrive at the party!

By Karla Mans Giroux

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