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Breast cancer can’t take my marriage

Shawn Walker's very personal journey to healing and intimacy after a breast cancer diagnosis

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A year of challenges: From hysterectomy to breast cancer

Six months before my breast cancer diagnosis, I had a hysterectomy due to large and painful fibroids. My body was still healing, and I had been struggling with intimacy when I was diagnosed. After chemotherapy, I was very sick, so sex was not on the list of things that I thought about. I did think about my body image, though. I wasn’t sure how I could look at myself in the mirror after the double mastectomy, even with reconstruction.

In the middle of this cancer madness, my husband, Mark, and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. Regardless of my struggles with my body image, I still wanted to celebrate our love. We booked a hotel room, picked up an Italian dinner to bring back to our room, and spent some alone time together. Mark is my lover and my best friend. I still get flutters in my tummy when we are together, and I intend to keep those flames burning. I was tired of feeling like a sick patient, and I know being a caregiver was hard on him. We needed to be us, Mark and Shawn, without cancer, treatments, surgeries, sickness, and we wanted to make every second of that alone time count. We were really enjoying our time together – until we tried to have sex. Unfortunately, it was terribly painful, as if shards of glass were inside of me. We decided to stop immediately. Mark held me and explained we would have many other opportunities for sex after I was well. It wasn’t the romantic anniversary I envisioned. We felt disappointed but held onto the hope that things would get better.

My post-chemotherapy body

When I finished chemo and recovered from the double mastectomy, my scalp was full of bald patches, and the hair I did have was very thin and breaking. My stomach and breasts were bruised and numb in many areas. I had no strength. Sexy was far from what I was feeling. Yet I was so thankful to be cancer free. And, I wanted my life back! I tried to accept this new body. Mark and I tried to resume sex, but the pain was still intense. In fact, it was worse, and no amount of lubrication on the shelves of Target could help.

I am 48, and I know that is not young, but it is certainly not old either. I was not ready to give up on our love life. Cancer tried to steal my physical and mental health, my breasts, and my hair. Chemo changed my taste buds and made chocolate taste bad. That was just not cool, and now it could impact my marriage? No way. Mark and I need physical affection and intimacy, and my marriage would not become another side effect.

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Shawn Walker in a pink dress
Shawn Walker and her husband at the beach
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Seeking solutions for sexual healing


So, I did what any girl who wants help does: I searched Google, which led me to some great websites. One great source of information is the Facebook page, Sex After Breast Cancer. I watched some of their videos and checked out their guides section. I was amazed that simple methods could possibly correct this issue.

I kept hearing that vaginal estrogen cream is helpful for vaginal health. To be sure, I spoke with my oncologist, and she assured me that vaginal estrogen cream is safe and effective. She wrote me a prescription, and I started right away. I was also using coconut oil a few times a week as a vaginal moisturizer. Those two lubricants did help, but I continued to have pain during deep vaginal penetration.

Pelvic floor therapy: A game-changer


Then I heard of Rachel S. Rubin, MD, who is a urologist and sexual medicine specialist. She is also the education committee chair for the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH). Dr. Rubin is full of information! I read a few posts on her Facebook page and listened to her on podcasts where she talked about the benefits of pelvic floor therapy, and I was excited to try it. I found a great physical therapist who specializes in the techniques.

Doubtful? If you had a sports or work injury, you would go to physical therapy, right? Well, after breast cancer treatment, your vagina might need some help with its function, too. My physical therapist was professional and compassionate. She took the time to understand my issues and provide me with tools to help. She also recommended a CBD-infused lubricant. Once I started the pelvic floor therapy, along with the coconut oil moisturizer, vaginal estrogen cream, and CBD-infused lubricant, it was not long before I was back to enjoying sex with my husband again!

The power of faith and gratitude


Going through breast cancer treatments and surgeries was difficult. I had a lot of support from family and friends, and I had my faith. I strongly believe in the power of prayer, and that God has a good plan for my life. Holding onto my faith in Jesus pulled me through. I learned a lot from this experience, and I got to meet so many amazing people who are doing everything they can to defeat cancer, as well as care for and comfort those who are impacted by it. Breast cancer does not define me, even though it changed me in many ways. I won’t let it take anything more away from me, because I plan to live a full and beautiful life. My advice to you: Never give up. Find solutions to your problems by researching and talking to people. Finally, no matter what comes each day, look for something beautiful and good. It is always there.

 

This blog was updated on February 22, 2024, for minor changes in the title and to add headers.

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DISCLAIMER:

The views and opinions of our bloggers represent the views and opinions of the bloggers alone and not those of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Also understand that Living Beyond Breast Cancer does not medically review any information or content contained on, or distributed through, its blog and therefore does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of any such information or content. Through our blog, we merely seek to give individuals creative freedom to tell their stories. It is not a substitute for professional counseling or medical advice.

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