The deeply felt psychological, emotional, sexual and relational impacts of breast cancer for the person with breast cancer and their partner are real, difficult and everyday challenges for a couple. Getting help from a couples therapist, who is also well-versed in the complexities of how breast cancer impacts a relationship, is an effective and empowering way to address the challenges of the disease while also strengthening the couple’s bond and connection to each other.
I am a breast cancer survivor. Even before my own diagnosis in June of 2015, my life had been intimately connected with breast cancer as a caretaker and loved one of other women who had experienced it. My mother and maternal aunt had it; my sister had it; two of my sisters-in-law had it. At the time when I became the patient, I had been married for 12 years, and was a couple therapist specializing in helping couples cultivate positive, vibrant, and authentically intimate relationships. During my breast cancer journey, in addition to facing numerous physical and emotional challenges, I was also acutely aware of the relational and sexual challenges for me and my husband brought on by the disease. I was also acutely aware that while my husband and I shared some similar perspectives in the experience, due to our different roles (me as “patient” and my husband, as “caretaker/observer/supporter”), there were major differences as well that required our attention and our respect if we were to come through this experience stronger together. My personal experiences have affirmed for me, the importance of seeking out help for yourself and your significant relationship so that the journey of breast cancer can be a transformative one for you and your partner. It is my hope that you and your partner seek out help and support from one who truly understands both the complexity of couple relationships and the emotional, relational and sexual complexities of breast cancer.
Recovery is a time when couples are truly challenged. Both are tired from the toll of the illness and treatment. Both can feel worried about the future and a recurrence of the cancer. Both can be stressed about financial pressures due to lost time at work and medical bills. It is common for couples to struggle in communicating these concerns and fears directly, effectively and openly with each other. Often couples also struggle in resuming a satisfying sex life, or creating one for the first time, and usually do not give themselves permission to address the topic of sex. However in not addressing sexual changes and challenges as a result of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, couples not only lose opportunities to learn new ways to create satisfying, pleasurable sex, they also lose valuable opportunities and experiences of connection that can offer healing, deep connection, reassurance, security and a sense of “normalcy” .
Often clients also believe that once the treatment ends, life resumes just as it was prior to the illness. Going through the door of treatment and recovery is a one way path; life is forever changed and the work of creating a new normal becomes the challenge at hand. There is no going back; cancer forever changes the one who has/had it and their partner.
It is possible to re-establish a life that has meaning, feels satisfying and thrives physically, emotionally, relationally and sexually after cancer. Seeking counseling with a therapist who understands how breast cancer impacts both the patient and their partner can be one of the most effective ways to restore overall well being after the challenges of cancer and treatment has been completed.
If you would like help in facing your unique, relational and sexual challenges of breast cancer, please call or email to set up your initial appointment.