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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer's Relationship Toll

Any major illness can strain close relationships. But for women with breast cancer, it can be an especially difficult emotional challenge.

Breast Cancer and Your Family Relationships continued...

And what if your child asks, "Mommy, are you going to die?" Puckett says the answer is always "I hope not."

"Tell them you are doing everything you can to stay with them, and you'll let them know if anything changes. Building a sense of trust is key to building a strong, supportive family unit during this time," she says.

(How did your relationships change during or after cancer? Share your own coping tips on WebMD's Breast Cancer: Friend to Friend message board.)

Breast Cancer And Your Intimate Relationships

While crisis automatically bonds some partners in a unified front, sadly, that's not always the case. Indeed, experts say that when partners try to shield each other from the pain and worry of breast cancer, often they grow further apart -- and don't even understand why.

"This is an area that most patients have the most difficulty with -- not only the patients, but their partners -- and it occurs mainly because they are not sharing with each other, so neither knows how the other is thinking or feeling," says Murillo.

When you don't know what your partner is thinking, he says, you often assume the worst -- that they don't care, or that they don't want you. And the natural reaction is to withdraw.

"But often the real issue is that he doesn't bring things up for fear he'll make her feel worse. And she's not bringing things up because she doesn't want him to worry. So the communication stops at a time when they both really need to share these feelings," says Murillo.

But it's not just the emotional communications that can go awry. Very often the separation starts in the bedroom as breast cancer affects a couple's intimate life.

"Women connect their breasts with their sexuality and their femininity in a way that is not typical of any other cancer," says Nelson. As a result, she says, any type of breast cancer treatment has the potential to impact intimacy.

Indeed, Puckett tells WebMD, it can often leave a woman feeling that her sex life will never be the same, that her partner will be turned off, or that she herself won't ever feel like making love again. This in turn causes her to pull away from her partner at a time when sharing a physical connection can be life-affirming.

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