Guest blog by Gina Maisano
Author of Intimacy After Breast Cancer: Dealing with Your Body, Relationships and Sex
While the medical community has succeeded in helping more women survive for 15, 20, 30 years and longer after breast cancer, few experts have focused on the sexual health and well-being of women survivors.
The good news is that you can rediscover the sensual woman you were before your battle with this disease. Here are eight places to start:
Get your bod back. If you weren't in shape before your diagnosis, now is the time to lose the extra weight you put on after chemo. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high fiber foods, and lean proteins. Avoid white flour, sugar, hydrogenated fat, high-sodium snacks, chemically processed foods, and fatty muscle meats. Do a minimum of 3-5 hours of exercise per week, get back to your healthy weight, and reduce your fat intake to 30 grams per day -- all of which can reduce your risk of recurrence.
Be kind to the "new girls." Regardless of what kind of surgery you had, you feel a sense of loss and a disconnect with your new body. One way to get through the grief is to make the best of your new breasts and get the look you want: whether by asking the surgeon to fill in divots, massaging scars with vitamin E oil, using silicone scar patches, finding the right prostheses and bras, or having your new nipples and areolas tattooed to match your old ones.
Locate your e-zone. Your surgeon took away a good portion of skin and nerve endings, but not all. When your surgery was completed, a lot of your erogenous zone was simply lifted higher -- now you just have to find it again. Lying on your back, with the eraser of a new pencil, slowly move it around your collarbone, neck, breasts, and chest until you feel a familiar sensation -- your old erogenous zone! Locate all these pleasure spots. Later, you can show your partner.
Get your mojo back. Having little or no desire for sex is both physical and psychological. Take an inventory of all the medications you're on that have the side effect of low libido -- including SRRI antidepressants, tranquilizers, pain meds, cold and allergy medicines, and NSAIDs -- and try to find alternatives. Seek help for post-traumatic stress. Do kegel exercises to limber up your vaginal muscles, and find crèmes to help with vaginal dryness. All of these practical steps will help get your body and mind ready for lovemaking.
Play with toys. Have fun with your own sexuality. Life's too short and precious to be uptight about what's going to make you feel better. Sex toys are no longer taboo, and are available in perfectly respectable shops, or easily ordered from the Internet or through a catalog. If you use these toys a minimum of three times a week, you can increase your libido, and learn about your new body.
Project confidence. If you feel insecure or like damaged goods, it will emanate from you like a dense fog. Every morning, look in the mirror and tell yourself you're beautiful -- it may be cliché, but it works. Invest in beautiful lingerie that makes you feel sexy under your clothes. Take time to put on some makeup. Purchase a new outfit that's a striking design or color, and own it when you wear it. Stand up straight, and look people in the eyes. You beat cancer. You should be incredibly impressed with yourself -- others will be too.
Communicate with your partner. The moment of truth arrives and you're ready to make love again. Just because your doctor gave you the go-ahead to have sex doesn't mean your partner is ready. Talk about what you want to do with him, and what you feel comfortable showing him right now. Ask him what he feels comfortable seeing. At first, you might want to wear one of his oversized button-down shirts, which keeps your breasts covered but is oh so sexy to him.z
No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women with breast cancer.