Life Relationships Getting your groove back after breast cancer

Getting your groove back after breast cancer

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I was keen to know about the mechanics of the surgeries, recovery times and the likely psychological toll both times I was diagnosed with breast cancer – I treated it like a research project.

However, amidst the mountains of information, there wasn’t much in the way of discussion about loss of libido, aside from a throwaway dot point in a pamphlet.

At the time, losing all interest in a good shag was like adding insult to injury, but it made sense – I was tired and in pain, so of course sex was a distant thought.

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I was also contending with grief around the surgery and it took some getting used to my new body: first, I had no breasts and then growing breasts but no nipples – I’d look at myself and the words “shop mannequin” would pop into my head.

I’d also hit the five-year mark after having had breast cancer for the first time in 2007, the magical point after which you’re less likely to get cancer again, and I started to relax. So, when I was diagnosed again in 2013, I took the view, albeit irrationally, that my body had let me down and was no longer an ally.

There was also weight gain. After having radiotherapy on my left breast the first time around, my circulation wasn’t up to scratch, so when it came to reconstructing nipples, bits necrotised and were cut off – that was depressing.

Sexologist Vanessa Muradian says it is possible to revive your libido.

In an effort to dry the hell out of the tissue, I was barred from showering and sweating, the upshot of which was that exercise was off the cards and I was suddenly sedentary.

My last surgery was in November last year and I’m now 12 kilos heavier than when I was re-diagnosed in 2013. That said, I used to be a bit of a stick with hair, so it’s not all bad.

Taking all of this into consideration, it’s little wonder that levels of spontaneous desire waned, but I wanted my libido back.

Vanessa Muradian, post-grad sexologist and founder of Mia Muse (a company dedicated to helping women celebrate sexuality), explains that physical change, trauma and anything that dents my sense of womanhood will result in a declining libido. Three boxes ticked right there.

Happily though, Ms Muradian reassures me that libido can be cultivated. It boils down to a couple of factors – first comes acceptance.

“Love, accept and get to know your breasts as they are now,” she says.

Music and a bath can help you feel better about yourself.

I’m trying – the first time I had breast cancer, I didn’t even look at my chest for a year, so I’ve been determined to do the reverse – I massage my chest and tell my new breasts I love them and that they’re doing a splendid job.

Ms Muradian also explains the importance of setting “erotic priorities” – that is, identifying those things which energise me and make me feel sensual.

Let’s face it, no one feels up for it when they’re utterly knackered and feeling gross. In my case, it’s as simple as moving my body more (yoga, dancing and hula hooping) and getting more sleep. Ditching iZombie in favour of music and baths isn’t going to hurt either.

Fill up that energetic cup and libido follows.

Ms Muradian reminds me that I need to let my husband in on this process too. He’s a loving man and accepts me body and soul, but she suggests it’s time for him to – quite literally – get hands on.

“You have this new body, complete with scars and things you feel vulnerable about,” Ms Muradian says. “But, it’s also a new place to explore, for both of you – it’s a new playground for you to rock, albeit one full of history and hardship.”

More generally, does Ms Muradian have any tips for people looking to get their groove back after trauma or loss?

“Absolutely,” she says. “For a start, keep in mind that recovery from trauma means that you have a huge amount of new experience and knowledge – you are a new, deeper, more evolved version of yourself, so treat your new self as a landscape for discovery.”

You don’t have to give up on your sex life after trauma or illness.

Here are some of her recommendations:

• Reconnect with your body. There’s a multiplicity of ways in which you can do that – my personal preferences are for dance, yoga and meditation – but do anything that will take you back into movement and get you out of the head;

• Allow for sensuality and the erotic on basic levels. For instance, give your partner a massage or read erotica to each other, but allow these activities to be standalone intimate times – no sex needed. By taking the pressure off having sex and by being erotic with yourself or your partner, you’ll cultivate libido; and, finally

• Don’t be afraid to use toys or lubricant. Do whatever’s necessary to change things up. Experimenting is a lot of fun, especially in the context of a strong relationship that’s already survived serious loss or trauma.

Right. Catch you later – I’ve got things to do.

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