Social media was recently abuzz with the story of an Iowa man who re-proposed to his wife of 26 years as she recovered from bilateral mastectomies. That’s an example of exceptional love and support, but sadly, it’s not one that all women experience.
If your spouse or partner has been supportive throughout your mastectomy and reconstruction, you are truly blessed. Most women find their partners to be a constant source of reassurance, loving them for who they are instead of what is (or isn’t) on their chest. If the two of you previously shared a strong bond, your relationship is more likely to weather the stress and emotional upheaval of mastectomy and reconstruction. Many couples find that going through the experience together strengthens their bond and commitment to each other. If your relationship was already weak, your treatment and reconstruction can bring you closer together—or drive you farther apart.
Although you’re the one who goes through reconstruction and recovery, your experience affects your partner as well. You may be perfectly comfortable in your post-mastectomy body and eagerly slip back into the closeness you experienced before your mastectomy and reconstruction. For some women, it’s not that easy.
Some partners are scared silly by the thought of cancer and surgery, but hesitant to discuss their feelings. Others may react with denial, refusing to acknowledge your cancer and reconstruction. Some may wonder what the big deal is if you’re able to have your breasts recreated. Early on, ask your partner to accompany you to doctors’ visits, participate fully in your reconstruction research, and support you during recovery.
Your partner may assume you’ll pick up your relationship where you left off, but it isn’t always easy to emotionally just snap out of it. After months of treatment, surgeries, and recovery, you may feel disconnected from physical pleasure, and intimacy may feel awkward. Lingering effects of cancer treatment can take a toll on intimacy, long after your stitches dissolve and your incisions heal. It can take time, effort, and patience to resolve these issues and get your love life back on track.
Your partner will probably take cues from your own attitude and comfort level with your new breasts. If you’re comfortable seeing and touching them, your partner probably will be, too. Express your feelings and encourage your partner to do the same. Open communication and sharing the experience is important to your relationship and will make things easier for both of you.
Intellectually, you probably know you’re still much more than the sum total of your breasts, but it may take a while to believe it. If you continue to feel uncomfortable with intimacy, consider joining a support group or seeking professional guidance; talking with a counselor may be all the help you need to get back to a satisfying relationship. Let yourself heal, grieve your loss, and deal with the aftermath of your cancer and mastectomy.