Good, Confident and Sexy: Becoming Whole Again

Breast cancer can impact sex, intimacy and body image whether you’re single or in a relationship. In anticipation of our Twitter Chat on Wednesday, June 24, AnaOno Intimates Owner Dana Donofree blogs about her experience regaining confidence and embracing her desirability after treatment.

Dana_Broken Dolls post

I often compare myself to a broken doll. Not the kind that was so beloved, it was carried everywhere, slowly fading and falling into disrepair over time as if it were aging gracefully. More like the kind that was once beautiful, but its owner decided to take construction paper scissors and hack its hair down to oddly shaped tufts, to accidentally (or on purpose) break off a limb or two, scar the midsection with a Sharpie and leave it half bent and mutilated in in the corner of her closet.

Because that’s what breast cancer did to me. It took a perfectly acceptable woman and turned her into a shadow of herself, and when it is all said and done, it made her feel broken, ruined and rejected.

When I was first diagnosed, what was about to happen to my outward appearance wasn’t even on my mind. I thought I had it all together, the strength, the attitude, the “let’s do this.”

See, I was never terribly attached to my breasts. I never even really thought about them all that much. I was 27. My boobs were small, but perky. They hadn’t done anything hero-worthy like nourish a child. Their biggest accomplishment was being able to exist without a bra. Their greatest time to shine was on weekend party nights when they could hang out in a super low-cut blouse and up my va va voom quotient.

So, when the time came to go our very separate ways, my friends threw a “Ta-Ta to Dana’s Ta-Tas” party and they had one last night out on the town in the lowest plunging neckline I could find.

I was pretty flippant and casual about parting with my two of my lady parts. Friends and family took bets on which of my surgeons, Dr. McDreamy and Dr. Hottie, was the better catch. I joked that they would be the last to ever cop a feel of my original breasts.

I thought I was going to be just fine afterward. That it wouldn’t faze me in the least.

But, I never could have prepared myself for what it felt like, both physically and mentally, when I woke from surgery. For something I felt I was completely comfortable with and ready for, losing them, my breasts, shook my world.

I took off the bandages, and saw this alien staring back at me in the mirror. I was mutilated. I was swollen. My scars were their own entity  purple and protruding like someone had chainsawed me up and stapled me back together.

It is not at all what I had imagined. Where was this “We are replacing your boobs with ones just like them so you can feel ‘normal’?” I hadn’t expected to look like a badly-repaired Lego. I expected to kinda come out looking more implanty-boob-job like. This body was the farthest cry from normal I could have ever imagined. Continue reading

Cancer and Sex

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, regularly blogs on ASCO Connection, where this post originally appeared. Learn more about sex and intimacy after a breast cancer diagnosis during our Twitter Chat, Tweets from the Sheets, on Wednesday, June 24.

dizon_don 2012As an oncologist who also runs a sexual health clinic for women treated (or under treatment), I am discovering that my perspective on both issues of cancer treatment (and survival) and life after cancer (and quality of life) is somewhat unique. I am conscious of how difficult it is to bring up cancer therapy and survivorship (let alone sexual health) within the same discussion, yet I have gained a heightened sensitivity of the importance of looking beyond treatment even while we are discussing what to do now. I have benefitted greatly from colleagues in the field of sexual health, such as Michael Krychman, at UC Irvine, and Anne Katz, in Canada, both of whom I have been privileged enough to count as colleagues, co-authors, and contemporaries.

I am even more fortunate that one of my friends here in Boston also shares my interest in women’s health. Sandy Falk is a gynecologist and sees cancer survivors for women’s health issues at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. In our practices, we both see the adverse effects of therapy that patients have to cope with. However, far from the arthralgias of aromatase inhibitors and neuropathy of some of our chemotherapeutic agents (two symptoms which we as oncologists are comfortable discussing), sexual health is often compromised.

There are common complaints encountered by those of us who cover sexual health. They include:

  • “I’m done with treatment, but now I can’t have sex. It is too painful and my sexual desire is completely gone.”
  • “Why didn’t my oncologist warn me about this? Maybe if I had known my partner and I could have worked on this early on. But now, so much time has passed now and my partner and I have lost patience.”
  • “I’m not sure how to go on with my relationship.”

Those may be extreme examples, and I hope for most oncologists that they are. However, what I do know is that these perceptions do exist—inside and outside of medicine. When the paper on AI treatment was picked up by several sites, I had read some comments posted and was disheartened to see that some of the thoughts above were reflected: “A woman should be lucky to be alive,” one stated; another said, “You can’t have sex if you’re dead.”

I believe most oncologists do not discuss sexual health with their patients and as an oncologist, I understand why. Most clinicians reading this might think (perhaps unconsciously) that the patient is “lucky to be alive.” And of course, she is. And we also know that she probably wouldn’t have had the ability to hear detailed information about sexual health during the diagnosis and treatment planning process—there were much bigger priorities then. Continue reading

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


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.



Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP

Chief Executive Officer


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.