Personal relationships can be a difficult thing to navigate for all people, but particularly for some breast cancer survivors. Some women who are already married at the time of their diagnosis have fears that their relationship with their spouse will change, and others who are not married fear that dating will become much more difficult. Trust and honesty are fundamental to every relationship. Being able to maintain or create open and honest communication will be important for both of you. You are the only person who knows how you’re feeling physically and emotionally.
Those women with a spouse or partner may notice that a diagnosis of breast cancer will either strengthen your relationship or cause tension. Talking to your spouse about how you’re doing and helping them figure out how involved they want to be in your journey can help them to understand your needs. Some couples may need some help in the form of counseling, and support services for Alabama can be found HERE.
Fears about body image, sexuality, and sexual changes may top the list of concerns for some women. Losing your hair during treatment can be very distressing, but learning to cope for this short period of time by utilizing head scarves (LIKE FROM HOPE SCARVES) or wigs can be helpful (you can get wigs from your local American Cancer Society or see our Personal Services resources for other options). Getting used to how your breasts look and feel now can be a little harder. If you had a lumpectomy you might notice small changes. Those who have a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy and are either undergoing or forgoing reconstruction may have more changes to get used to (Here's a link to a blog about not getting reconstruction as well as some additional information about Reconstruction). Allowing yourself and your partner to grieve the losses (even the temporary ones) is a step some women have a hard time with.
Sexual changes and sexuality in general may be a harder change to cope with. Taking it slowly when resuming sexual contact with your partner may be helpful. Find out what makes you more comfortable. Some women have said that wearing a bra during sexual contact helped to ease discomfort in their breast or chest area, while others feel much better wearing nothing. Vaginal dryness is a common complaint for many women after chemotherapy and anti-hormonal therapy. Using water based lubricants such as Astroglide, Replens, or Me Again can help. Additionally many women find relief using Estrace Cream or the Estring, which contain a hormone, but have not been linked to any breast cancer recurrence because they act locally on the vaginal tissue. Talk to your oncologist about this, as your dosing will be different than a woman without a history of breast cancer.
For spouses and partners, be patient and understanding. The woman you love is dealing with a lot of physical and emotional changes right now, and they will not go away overnight. Being there for her, helping her, offering support, and just being present and loving will go a long ways towards strengthening your relationship. If you need help dealing with your own emotions about her cancer, talk to her, and seek help from others if you need it. Men Against Breast Cancer has some information that might be useful to you.
For those of you who are single and dating, finding the right person to start a relationship with might seem overwhelming. You might find that getting to know someone and trusting them with this information might talk some time, or you might feel that you’re able to be open right away. Remember, if they can’t accept any part of your story, they’re not the right person for you.