The bottom line
For many women, the experience can be debilitating and having support is crucial to healing.
Brown remembers how her husband’s strength helped them through her breast cancer. As a retired New York City firefighter lieutenant and 9/11 survivor, he’s no stranger to tragedy and medical emergencies.
“When I kept apologizing because I was just all upset and weepy about chemo because I felt like crap, he said, ‘Just be gentle with yourself. This is your 9/11. This is a big deal for you and let yourself feel however you’re gonna feel.’”
Brown credits communication for helping her marriage survive such trying times.
“I think communication is really important for everything, all aspects of life, especially something like this,” she said. “You know, ‘I’m feeling really unattractive or how could you be with me after this?’ I think giving your partner the opportunity to explain why you’re so wonderful is pretty cool, and it’s very necessary.”
With cancer, and breast cancer in particular, there’s a lot to work through.
Carpenter says that while many women undergoing treatment may feel de-womanized and unattractive, their partners often still see them as just as vibrant.
“Desire is multi-faceted,” explained Carpenter. “There are myriad things that contribute to someone’s interest in sexual contact: their relationship factors, self-esteem, body image issues, stress levels, fatigue levels.”
The relationship dynamic often changes as well, proving another layer of complexity.
“The partner has become the caregiver very often to the patient,” Carpenter noted. “And in a traditional sort of man and woman couple, very often, she has been the caregiver throughout much of their relationship… that role reversal is something that the couple and the patient are going to need to get used to.”
Pillai-Friedman explains what happens to couples in that case.
“So, the couple who previously may have had a mutually supportive relationship may be forced to transition to a situation where the breast cancer patient becomes dependent on their partner to varying degrees,” she said.
Video: 5 Ways to Improve Intimacy After Breast Cancer
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