Love, Intimacy, and Breast Cancer

What now? Here are insights on intimacy from women living – and loving – with breast cancer.

Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on August 01, 2004
4 min read

Breast cancer may bring challenges in love, sex, and intimacy. Read answers to common questions for women with breast cancer.

This diagnosis can make or break a marriage. You'll find that you have a better marriage after breast cancer, or you'll have no marriage. Fortunately, most women find the diagnosis makes a marriage stronger.

Your fight against breast cancer truly is a battle in the medical trenches. Let your husband or boyfriend climb in the trenches with you. Let him help in any way he wants. Some husbands come to every medical appointment and take notes. Some have their hands full just helping with the grocery shopping.

The point is, give your husband permission to be as involved as he wants. And understand that not every man can climb into the trench with you.

If you didn't have a strong relationship before your diagnosis, you may face a rough time now. But if you're both willing to work, you can find ways to get back to the love you shared years ago. A crisis has a way of drawing a couple closer.

Sex sure isn't at the top of a woman's mind after her diagnosis, and treatment doesn't help! You're sore, you're scared, and some of the treatments cause vaginal dryness. It's common on the breast cancer message boards to see a posting that says, "Sex? What's that?"

Talk with your guy about it. He needs to understand how you feel, and that you won't feel this bad forever. Go slow, at your own pace.

Keep in mind that most chemotherapy puts women into premature menopause, so you may experience hot flashes along with vaginal dryness. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce menopausal symptoms. And when you do want to try sex, don't hesitate to use a vaginal lubricant.

Some positions may hurt, such as lying on the side where you had your mastectomy. Certain activities that once gave you pleasure may not any more. Your partner needs you to be his guide. When you feel like having sex, let him know. Be willing to experiment. Your body isn't exactly the same. Why should you follow the same sex routine?

Remember, once you're feeling healthy, you can get back your sex drive. While you're feeling sick, don't concern yourself with anything except feeling better.

The best way to get in "the mood" is to really like each other. And the greatest aphrodisiac for many women is a considerate husband. Several women say that their husbands looked at their chests before they could bring ourselves to peek. "You know, honey, it doesn't look that bad," was all the women needed to hear to fall in love again. A guy who massages your neck, or comes home with the groceries, starts to look real good.

You can bring romance back into your relationship long before you resume sex. If you're uncomfortable with your appearance, wear pretty lingerie to bed. Light the room with candles when you go to bed, even if the two of you are just going to talk. Take a shower together before bed. You'll feel more romantic if you feel fresh.

Intimacy is far more than sex. Sitting on the couch with your husband as he massages your feet creates intimacy. Going for a walk in the crisp autumn moonlight creates intimacy. Even reading together in the same room strengthens your bond. Find quiet, soothing activities that you both enjoy.

It's probably best to tell the man you had breast cancer before you go on the date. If he doesn't want to go out after you tell him, he's not good enough to be in your life.

The single women in WebMD's breast cancer community have handled this delicate task in very different ways. When a man asked one woman out for pizza, she said matter-of-factly, "I can't go out Friday. I have cancer and I'm in chemo that day." He paused, and then said, "How about Sunday?"

Another woman would wait until she had dated a man several times. It was easier to tell him after she knew him better, but harder on her if he never called again.

So, be straightforward with the man. Tell him you're in treatment. On some days you feel good, and on some days you feel lousy. If he can accept this, and tells you he wants to take you out on the good days, you've found a good guy.