Having breast cancer is a difficult experience. Going through it may come with a lot of pain, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues affecting your quality of life. This also means that you may not enjoy the activities you used to be passionate about before your diagnosis, feel out of touch with your body, or have lost intimacy toward yourself and your partner.
Your sex drive may be the last thing on your mind when undergoing surgery or dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments. Know that it’s completely understandable not to feel sexual at this challenging time of your life. However, treatments are available to help you feel better and regain your sexuality.
If you feel ready to explore the reasons behind your sexual challenges, here are some tips to help rebuild sexual intimacy after breast cancer treatment.
Find the Cause of Your Sexual Challenges
You’ve been through a life-altering experience and may feel out of touch with yourself. It’s something many cancer patients can relate to. So before you blame yourself for your intimacy-related challenges, know that your sexual challenges are not your fault. They have a medical reason, and they are often inevitable as the side effects of your cancer treatments:
- Chemotherapy may induce early menopause, yeast infections, and a weakened immune system.
- Radiation therapy can lead to swelling and decreased sensation in the chest area, with cancer-related fatigue being another common symptom.
- Breast cancer surgery may come with severe pain, swelling, and loss of sensation.
- Hormone therapy reduces estrogen and progesterone production while inducing medical menopause. Its side effects include vaginal dryness, making vaginal intercourse painful and undesirable.
Many of these issues are painful to live with, whether affecting your sex drive or not. Therefore, it’s worth seeking treatment to increase your overall well-being, which will also help rebuild intimacy post breast cancer.
Address Physical Pain First
Physical pain is the first issue to address in post breast cancer rehabilitation. Depending on the treatments you’ve undergone and the side effects you’re experiencing, there are specific treatments available to manage your pain:
- To reduce swelling of the breast area, you can work with a physical therapist specializing in lymphedema treatment.
- If you’re having pain during intercourse, pelvic floor therapy may help reduce pain and improve intimacy.
- If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, you can use dilators, lubricants, or vagina moisturizing with liquid vitamin E oil.
- For vaginal pain relief, you might also need estrogen creams or laser treatment.
Even though it may not be easy to bring up these issues with your doctor, know that your intimacy challenges are nothing to be ashamed of. They happen to many breast cancer patients, and professionals are there to help.
Start a Physical Therapy Program
The American Cancer Society recommends cancer patients return to normal daily activity as soon as possible after diagnosis. Exercise can help improve your mood and body image, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance sexuality. That’s why physical exercise is an important step toward rebuilding intimacy after cancer treatment.
However, if you’re dealing with cancer-related fatigue and pain or are worried that exercise will worsen your lymphedema symptoms, it’s worth consulting a physical therapist before you start. They can help assess your condition and develop a personalized exercise plan to address your symptoms, improve your fitness level, help you feel better in your body, and, in doing so, improve your sexuality.
Focus on Mental Wellness
Even if you have started to heal physically, you may still be dealing with body image issues and a lack of self-confidence, affecting the intimacy toward yourself or your partner. Talk to a psychologist, sex therapist, or social worker to address your body image issues. Such healthcare providers often specialize in treatment and support for breast cancer survivors. There are also support groups and survival communities available, which can be incredibly helpful to turn to. Talking to people going through the same challenges and learning their stories will help your mental healing post breast cancer. If you’re not comfortable opening up just yet, self-compassion books and online resources may also help start the healing process.
Rebuild Intimacy at Your Own Pace
Rebuilding intimacy after breast cancer takes time. It’s crucial, therefore, not to blame yourself or be impatient toward yourself. Take your time and be kind to yourself as you navigate this difficult process.
Talking about your sexual challenges with your partner is a step towards rebuilding intimacy. Even though avoiding communication is easier than opening up, talking about your feelings helps you recover faster. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with your partner. They have supported you through cancer treatment. They won’t stop supporting you now. If you’re not in a relationship, have a conversation with yourself; try journaling, for instance. It’s just as important for healing as sharing your thoughts with someone else.
Your body has changed post-breast cancer, but you will be able to love yourself again, and you will be able to enjoy sex after breast cancer. Until then, explore yoga and mindfulness to reconnect with your body. Find new ways of enjoyment with sex toys or intimate massages. But most importantly, take as long as you need to heal.
Breast cancer and related treatments may leave you with a lot of pain, discomfort, and intimacy challenges, such as reduced sex drive, vaginal pain, or body image issues. Fortunately, treatments are available to help you feel good in your body again and improve your quality of life. Physical therapy, for instance, can help rebuild intimacy by reducing pain, numbness, and swelling while restoring strength and mobility.
With years of experience in breast cancer physical therapy, Dr. Alexandra Chaux can address your needs in post breast cancer rehabilitation, including your intimacy challenges. Dr. Chaux will work with you to find strategies to manage the side effects of your treatments during this challenging period of your life.
To learn more about physical therapy for patients with breast cancer, contact Chaux Physical Therapy at 805-203-9940 or make an appointment online.