When it comes to breast cancer, there’s no shortage of information on the web about the medical aspects of this disease, like how to prevent and treat it. But how many are talking about breast cancer’s effects on relationships and intimacy? The answer is far too few.
During a recent episode of The Solve, ESSENCE’s Relationships and Wellness Director Charli Penn spoke with Dr. Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist, about the relationship dilemmas that often stem from a breast cancer diagnosis.
“With almost any medical diagnosis, my clients have talked about feeling like their body’s betrayed them,” Dr. Henry says. “When you have a mastectomy, it changes the landscape of your body. A lot of the intimacy issues come from your own self-image and comfort level with your body. When that changes, it presents almost like a third person in your relationship.”
Dr. Henry goes on to say that because breast cancer is a very individual experience in nature, it can be difficult for a partner to empathize with undergoing such a drastic physical change. “There’s a lot of reestablishing norms,” she continues. “You have to get to know yourself again, and also your partner. Then intimacy, which is such a private and vulnerable thing, has to be redefined as well.”
Before physical intimacy can be dealt with, Dr. Henry asserts the breast cancer survivor must become acquainted with their new norm. “I’ve learned as a therapist that we try to avoid, shut down, stop, and kill the things that are happening organically. So rather than trying to avoid intimacy because it’s awkward or uncomfortable, [look at your new body] and say, “this is a part of what it is now. The more that I sit with it, the more I understand it and the more it becomes part of the norm.'”
So how exactly does a breast cancer survivor get reacquainted with her body? Dr. Henry suggests movement, be it yoga or even a twerk class. “Even if you’re uncomfortable and it’s not something that you know how to do or that you feel good about doing, just getting active and finding different ways to move your body will definitely help you feel like you again.”
Want more of Dr. Henry’s tips? Listen to The Solve episode below.