You’ve finished treatment, confirmed test results, and completed the final round of chemo.
Your brain and body feel different – especially if a mastectomy was part of the deal – and now you’re embarking on the next phase of a new life. Building (and boosting) your confidence and sexual sense of self is important, though certainly tough; but fortunately this is your chance to make some exciting new life choices that’ll change the way you enjoy your body!
Treating and surviving cancer changes your body in many ways. Your hair might be curly where it was once straight; your skin might feel dry; you may have lost weight; you might have removed a breast (or both). And it’s hard to get used to. But there are gentle and effective exercises, so to speak, that can help you accept – and love – this incarnation and find true beauty in what you might once have considered flaws.
Counselors say one of the biggest issues that women and their partners experience is getting accustomed to a new chest. Whether having had a lumpectomy or mastectomy, women have a hard time seeing past the resulting scars and revealing their new bodies to themselves (in front of a mirror or in photos) and especially to their partners. One trick some psychologists recommend is viewing photographs of women who’ve had similar surgeries, especially if your surgery hasn’t happened yet. There are beautiful artist photography books that showcase the various shapes and forms that women’s bodies take during and after cancer treatment and promote a sense of camaraderie while celebrating having experienced and survived such a life-altering event. Plus you and your partner will be prepared for what to expect, which takes any fear of the unknown out of the picture.
Sex & Masturbation
Post-cancer, women may find that their breasts no longer provide the same pleasure sensations that they once did. Whether because of scarring, surgery or simply the result of negative association, they might need to find new ways to provide the same or similar feelings during intimacy (especially with a partner). Fortunately, this kind of experimentation and exploration is exciting and might end up exposing an entirely new side of your sexual self.
Chemotherapy and hormone treatments affect your natural libido and sexual response, which can make sex physically uncomfortable. But using a vaginal moisturizer every day – just like you would moisturize your skin – can keep the delicate skin in and around your vulva soft and conditioned while a quality water-based or silicone-based lubricant can do wonders in the bedroom. They keep things slick and smooth and take the pressure off you (and your body) so you can focus on the fun at hand.
Sex toys are also a great way to increase sensation and explore new areas of the body, while making the tried-and-true sweet spots feel even better. They enhance pleasure without exhausting hands/fingers/tongues and give you and your partner something new to try together – which facilitates communication and, in turn, a stronger sense of intimacy. Just don’t expect you (or your partner) to figure it out all at once.
Lingerie & Accessories
Lingerie, scarves, even feather boas are fun and sexy accents when you don’t yet feel comfortable “exposing” certain parts of your body. Bralettes are pretty for smaller chests and eliminate the uncomfortable (and sometimes unnecessary) structure, boning and support of a traditional bra. Matching panties and camisoles look sexy and bring attention to the body parts you want accented. And if you feel shy about showing too much skin, a silk or satin nightgown can look flirty and fun – and feel incredible against your skin! – while flowing over scars and areas of the body that you might want to keep covered.
What’s most important is your comfort level and staying true to your needs and desires as you get used to your body and sexuality after cancer. Whether with a partner or with yourself, the key to feeling happy and healthy post-cancer is loving and appreciating the incredible feats that your body is capable of – and feeling excited for what life has in store for you next!