Sex and Intimacy After Breast Cancer: Susan’s Story

susan orangeThere are many ways a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact your sexual life. In anticipation of our new publication, Breast Cancer inFocus: Getting the Care You Need as a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Person, Susan DiPronio blogs about navigating sex and dating after breast cancer in the LGBT community.

     

While we’re dealing with breast cancer and the side effects of treatment, it’s difficult to embrace our sexual needs immediately and long after treatment ends. Our bodies are ragged. We’ve been exhausted for, well, years. Maybe we’ve lost lovers or friends, and for some of us, jobs, careers. For those of us who identify as lesbian or bisexual, we became invisible, almost dissolving into the background of the LGBT community, that social scene where we’re now a stranger invited, but not valued.

When I was going through chemo, a friend came to visit me. She talked about her night out at the bars, sharing her usual brand of entertaining trash-talk. All the while not looking me in the eye, intentionally avoiding my gaze. I was used to it, expected it. My appearance scared me enough that I couldn’t look in a mirror. My friend starts telling me about a woman she was shocked to see out the night before, partying with other women, dancing nonetheless. My friend mentioned that this woman had cancer. She was stunned that the woman would be out. I was stunned that my friend was saying this to me.

Our sexual and emotional desires don’t just end because we’ve had breast cancer. Yet, people shuffle us into another kind of closet, the “cancer closet,” and assume we no longer have an appetite for sex and intimacy.

As survivors, we also put pressure on ourselves when it comes to sex after breast cancer. Breasts are a big part of sex and if they’re gone or scarred, we don’t feel as if anyone would want us and our self-esteem suffers. But sexual desire never disappears. How do we navigate this difficult metamorphosis? Where do we find the support so necessary in rebuilding a positive body image?  I’ve decided to become the person I used to be and not be afraid to touch my scars, to embrace sexuality, to look at myself in the mirror.  Continue reading

Do You Have Any Idea How Beautiful You Are?

Musser_Barbara_2014Breast cancer can drum up many complex emotions and thoughts for those who are newly diagnosed, especially around body image. Barbara Musser, CEO and founder of Sexy After Cancer, writes about the importance of defining your own beauty and invites you to learn how to do this by joining us for our free webinar at noon ET/11 a.m. CT on Tuesday, May 20, held in partnership with Susan G. Komen of Greater Kansas City

Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is a big challenge that goes on for quite a while. On top of that, it’s easy to feel like less of a woman, especially with altered or removed breasts, instant menopause resulting from chemo or hormonal therapies and other physical changes that can happen.  There’s not a lot of conversation about our body image, self-esteem and self-love and our intimate and sexual lives. And yet these are the subjects that have the most to do with the quality of our lives.

It’s the elephant in the room that no one mentions. Partly it’s because these aren’t easy topics to broach and partly because we don’t know to ask about them if we don’t know what to expect. You may have experienced this spiral. Continue reading

Our New Vision and Mission

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This morning, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s CEO Jean Sachs released the following message to our friends and supporters:

Dear Friends:

All of us at Living Beyond Breast Cancer are excited to share our new vision and mission statements with you:

Our new vision

A world where no one impacted by breast cancer feels uninformed or alone.

Our new mission

To connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support.

These new statements were developed with the help of over 1,200 of you who responded to a survey we sent out earlier this year. Your input was used in a day-long retreat with members of the board of directors and staff. We learned what LBBC services are valued most and why so many have come to depend on our educational programs and services that allow for connection to others diagnosed with breast cancer.

For me, these new statements say with clarity what we strive to do every day and what we hope to achieve over time. Yesterday, I spoke with a long-time friend who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was overwhelmed, scared and shocked. Our conversation and the resources I was able to put in her hands grounded her and provided her with enough comfort and confidence to take the next step.

This is what LBBC does every day, and it is exactly what the new vision and mission statements express.

I hope you share my enthusiasm and, as always, if you have comments I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Jean 

Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP

Chief Executive Officer

LBBC

Randi Rentz is “Bringing Sexy Back!” Part 3 of a Multi-Series

This coming Wednesday,  March 28th, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host a free Community Meeting addressing the complex issues of sex and intimacy after diagnosis. Today Randi Rentz  finishes her story–providing insight and humor on the subject–in this final installment from a chapter in her forthcoming book, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!  Please note, this blog has a very mature theme and may not be suitable to all audiences.

On our way to the register we pass the sale section. I see edible body pasties, swizzle sticks and coochy lotions. Tattoo girl turns to the left and I follow her like a dog on a leash.

“You need a lubricant to go with your new toy and probably a cleanser too.”

Oh, my God! Lubricant and cleanser! It’s pretty apparent to me that my drugstore stuff doesn’t cut the ice with tattoo girl. She takes me down the lubricant aisle and points to the tissues on the top shelves. There are testers for every brand. Tattoo girl tells me I can try each brand, but to make sure to clean my hand or fingers with the tissue after each application. She is so considerate.

Tattoo girl and I walk up to the register where she puts my new toy and lubricant in a black sealed bag. She gives me sample cleansers for my vibrator and tells me to clean it after every use because bacteria can grow and she doesn’t want me to get an infection. How thoughtful.

I leave the store and think maybe I should have sex on the road, but know better. I worry about having a bad experience, like taking my lubricant on a trip and having my bags checked. What if the baggage checker finds my lubricant and holds it up for everybody to see? Oh God, I can never put it in my carry-on luggage. How embarrassing would that be? I should just turn myself in to the Lubricant Police.

I only hope that when I get home and use my new toy, things will slowly come back to life. Maybe I should dump my bag in my closet and hope that I can find someone who will want to be with me and accept me for who and what I am, rather than judging me on the exterior like I did with my lubricant. Shit. I throw My Little Secret and Pink in the closet. There’s always tomorrow.

It would be easier if there were a web-site for single breast cancer survivors. But what man would check out that site? Would my profile read, “Single, sexy woman who has been sliced and diced, poisoned and nuked: seeking conversation, love and travel?”  If I am fixed up on a blind date, should the guy be informed of my breast cancer or should I just not say a word about it? I think the hat or scarf that I wear is a dead giveaway, though. Would a man resent me because I haven’t told him my dirty little cancer secret prior to the date? If I decide to tell a date about my breast cancer, do I tell him what kind and how my breast really wasn’t affected too much from the surgery?

Cancer has changed my body. People now say I look average, not skinny. I look at myself in the mirror and can’t believe that the lean me with blonde hair is now two sizes bigger. It’s a real change, but I keep telling myself it is only temporary.

Maybe my biggest problem is getting my inner strength back. I continue to wear my diamonds, but something is missing. How will I date if I don’t feel good about my body that is drastically different than something that I am used to? My inner strength needs to come from my self-esteem which robbed me of my own security.

When I finally meet someone who I want to be romantic and sexy for, I get a migraine and am nauseous. I can’t wear lingerie with lace or built in underwire because it hurts and rubs the area where the tumor was excised. I don’t want to wear the scarf to bed, but am nervous that I will look like an egg-head. The idea of me “bringing sexy back” just backfired. I want to be touched so badly, that it hurts. In fact, everything hurts and I feel like throwing up.

I consider putting on Danielle, my free wig, a black tank top and black lace underwear. I put on high heels and stare at myself in the mirror. I look like I should be starring in a porno flick as someone by the name of Mimi Canterbury. You know; my dog’s first name and the first street I lived on as a kid. Maybe I should have sex with my eyes closed wearing sweat pants.

I put on my red skull cap instead and look just like, “Little Red Riding Hood.”  I don’t want him to see me without a full head of hair. In addition, I wear my diamond studs, add a touch of light fragrance and apply make-up. I decide to wear boxers and a tight T-shirt, but not too tight; something comfortable. I want to be normal and just don’t know what to do. I feel like a school girl having sexual relations for the first time.

Will the man I chose to have relations with be turned on by my body, my looks and my love making? I know that he is turned on by my intelligence, my ability to express amusement about my situation, but does he really want to do “the act” with me? My mind is saying “of course he does, he’s a guy,” but maybe he truly has feelings for me, Randi.

I can barely feel his hand on my left breast because it is still numb in many areas. I think he really wants me. Yes, he wants me a lot. I can tell from his caress on my body and the way he kisses me. Maybe it’s not about the breasts and the hair after all. Maybe it’s just me that he wants. And he wants me again and again. It’s magic.

To learn more about the unabridged chapter or to read additional excepts from her book, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!, you can visit her website. If you are in the Philadelphia area, please join us for our free Community Meeting on sex and intimacy at the Loews Hotel. You can find additional resources on our website, including our Understanding Guides. LBBC is currently taking pre-orders for “Intimacy and Sexuality” the newest title in its expanding “Understanding Breast Cancer” series.

Randi Rentz is “Bringing Sexy Back.”

On March 28th, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host a free Community Meeting addressing the complex issues of sex and intimacy after diagnosis.  In light of that, LBBC introduces a three-part series by our blogger Randi Rentz which provides an honest and frank account of her own experience re-entering the world of intimacy. Please note, this blog has a very mature theme and may not be suitable to all audiences.

Help! My sex life is stuck in neutral and I need some maintenance. I know I am up for one of the biggest challenges in my dating career, too. How do I mention the topic of my breast cancer with potential prospects in the vast ocean of dating? Am I ever going to have sex again?

Before my surgery, chemo, and radiation, I had a normal sex life and I now realize that I miss it. I also miss the cuddling and the human touch.  I’m really scared that my vagina has shrunk down to the size of a toothpick. A little voice in my head keeps telling me, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

I consult my oncologist’s office regarding seminars on sexuality and cancer and am told there is a workshop on sexuality and breast cancer the following week at the hospital. It sounds like something I should attend; however, I’m very embarrassed to discuss this issue with strangers. Maybe I can audit the workshop and not say a word. I can be invisible, or maybe a fly on the wall.

The workshop stays in the back of my mind as I contemplate dating in general. It is hard enough, but when you have had breast cancer, hardly any hair, and a breast that has scars, that is another story. I am struggling with my sexuality and self-esteem. Can I ever meet a guy who will love me for who I am on the inside, while ignoring the scars and lack of hair on the outside?

I am fixated on this topic and discuss it with a new friend who I met in radiation. She nodded sympathetically when I told her my crisis. “You may want to try a dildo or vibrator to stretch out your va-jay-jay, Rand. Start out small and then you can decide if it’s for you.”

Oh. My. God! She gave me the name of a sex toy shop downtown and suggested I take a few friends and make a party out of it. I’m not looking for a party; I’m looking for real sexuality and intimacy not a plastic substitute. On the other hand, maybe she was right. Maybe I need a little jump start to get the engine running again.

I’ve used sex toys before in previous relationships just to spice things up and admit that it’s fun with a partner. I now look at it like going to the dentist which I can’t stand. I’ve never had an orgasm when I’ve had a drill or floss in my mouth. Maybe it’s true. Maybe I do need a little help in this department, but I’m not making a party out of it. I need to find my courage to do this nasty deed by myself. My mantra comes back to me and I get myself ready to go on my hush-hush adventure.

To learn more about Randi or to read additional excepts from her book, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!, you can visit her website. If you are in the Philadelphia area, please join us for our free Community Meeting on sex and intimacy at the Loews Hotel. You can find additional resources on our website, including our Understanding Guides. LBBC is currently taking pre-orders for “Intimacy and Sexuality” the newest title in its expanding “Understanding Breast Cancer” series.

Re: Doctor’s Order

This entry was written by Jaime Rossano. Jaime was diagnosed with 2B invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Jaime is a college student pursuing a degree in Humanities and Social Science Every other Friday, Jaime will share a blog entry about her breast cancer experience. This year-long blog series is in honor of LBBC’s 20th anniversary.

To read Jaime’s previous entries, enter “Jaime Rossano” in the search box on this site.

As a woman, we want to feel sexy, look sexy and believe we are sexy. As a woman, we want our partners to make us feel special and turn the heat up in the bedroom. As a woman, we want passion, we want to just feel that chill that runs through your body when your partner touches you. We want to feel connected. Did your cancer take this all away too?

Going through breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, can change the mood in the bedroom. I know it did for my relationship with my husband. I feel that breast cancer has had an effect on my self-esteem and confidence as a woman. I know our breasts don’t define us or make us who we are, but hey, we are born with them and learn to like them. It sucks when you don’t have a choice and are told, point blank, “You need a mastectomy.”

At the beginning when I was first diagnosed, I felt like I had the plague, I made sure my husband didn’t come near me almost as if he was going to catch it. Silly, huh? I shut myself off from him and tried to keep him from the pain that I was in. I didn’t want him to know how scared I was. Because of all these mixed emotions that I was feeling, I couldn’t be in the moment – if you know what I mean –—–

I was so pre-occupied with what doctor I had to call or what appointment I needed to make next and Ronnie. My little one had to be taken care of.

When I had my mastectomy, Oh goodness! I was in so much pain, and truly felt like Frankenstein.  I honestly felt like less of a woman because I lost my breasts. I still had the implants at the time, but one was sideways and under my arm pit and the other is saggy. I just felt incomplete.

I saw my OB-GYN today and the topic of discussion was sex. Oh yeah, I thought to myself. Sex? That doesn’t exist in my house. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Sometimes you don’t feel like going to Zumba but when you go and you’re done, you feel great. Well, think of sex as if it is your new exercise.” She explained to me the importance of sex in a relationship and how it is healthy for a couple to have sex. “The less sex you have, the less he will listen,” she warned. True fact! Guys, don’t you agree?

 She had a lot of valid suggestions:

  • You may not feel like it, but go with it
  • Don’t be ashamed of anything
  • Don’t hide your scars

How can he look at me and look past the scars? The truth is, it doesn’t bother him. What matters most to him is that I am alive. So why can’t I get over it and let him see me in the candle light?

Doctor’s order are as follows: Connect with husband and get candles burning in the bedroom.

Do you face similar sexual related challenges as Jaime? You may be interested in dowloading transcripts from C4YW’s past workshop that highlighed sex and intimacy.

Sex and Intimacy: Thinking Outside the Box: This program will help you think outside the box in the bedroom and provide tips and techniques for single and partnered women of all sexual orientations. Explore ways to strengthen your emotional connection and physical relationship with your partner, and discover strategies to increase pleasure, both on your own and with a partner.

Cancer – my PEN-PAL

This entry was written by Jaime Rossano. Jaime was diagnosed with 2B invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Jaime is a college student pursuing a degree in Humanities and Social Science Every other Friday, Jaime will share a blog entry about her breast cancer experience. This year-long blog series is in honor of LBBC’s 20th anniversary.

To read Jaime’s previous entries, enter “Jaime Rossano” in the search box on this site.

Dear Cancer,

          You came into my life unwilling of what I had to say about it. You attached to the cells in my body so that I had no choice in treatment. Because of you I had to lose my boobs and I feel like Frankenstein. Because of you I lost my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. Because of you I have felt incomplete.

          Because of you I lost a sense of myself and who I was. Because of you I haven’t felt like a woman. Because of you my sex-life is non-existent. Because of you I feel weak and scared. Because of you I have found myself crying at the bottom of the shower most mornings. Because of you I hate how I look. Because of you I gained nearly 60lbs.

          Because of you I had to fight for my life. Because of you there have been things done to me that only my other “sisters” would understand. Because of you I now have to worry if you are ever going to come back. Because of you I have doctors’ appointments every three months. Because of you I have my blood drawn every week because you played games with my potassium. Because of you my feet hurt because they are so swollen from all the fluid. Because of you I have hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, nervousness, forgetfulness and now – a stutter.  

          Because of you I’ve had to adapt to different ways for my son, Ronnie, and I to play. Because of you each time I had chemo I lost a week of spending time with my son. Cancer, quick question? Do you consider or have a bit of compassion for the little children who you affect? They are battling the disease just as hard, if not harder, than me.       

          Cancer, I’m not sure if this will excite you but I have taken this awful disease and I have turned it into something amazing! You made me realize that not every day is promised. I realize that I can’t live life afraid. I have to be strong, not only for myself but for Ronnie, and of course my husband. I need to smile everyday because it just makes me feel better. I finally realized where my life is leading me and it is taking me some really great places. So, thanks, cancer.

          Because of you I am thankful you have made me stop and open my eyes. Going through this whole situation has been a test of strength, determination, faith, love and overall fight to survive. Back in December when I officially started my treatments I never thought I would see the end or see that the end was near. I officially have 8 radiation treatments left and then my treatments are done. Over the past 8 months there have been many challenges but also so many memories thanks to you, cancer.

          Cancer, you taught me that just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, the sun finally starts to shine. Ok, ok – I admit, when you first entered my body, if someone told me that the sun would shine, I would have told them to shut the blinds! But it’s almost over for you! And as I come to the end of this journey, you’ve showed me that I must realize what an incredibly amazing person I am. I am much stronger now. 

Signed, sealed, delivered,

Jaime

To read more about Jaime’s journey, be sure to search “Jaime Rossano” on this site.