Relearning to love my body after breast cancer
Before cancer, I wouldn’t say I was in love with my body, but I enjoyed my curves.
I showed off my breasts every chance I could get. And that confidence helped my relationship. Because I was comfortable in my skin, I felt sexy when David and I made love. Of course, there were times I didn't feel sexy due to my weight fluctuating over time. Even so, that never made me feel insecure in my relationship. I met David six years ago, and we instantly clicked. I truly feel we are a great fit for each other and a great team. We are raising three boys together, two being my biological sons, and one his. David is my rock through it all, but our relationship suffered greatly because of cancer.
Cancer treatment took everything that reminded me of being a woman: my breasts, my hair, and my ovaries. I underwent a double mastectomy, a port placement surgery, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries removing my expanders due to infections, 20 rounds of radiation, and a bilateral oophorectomy.
All these surgeries and treatments impacted me physically and mentally. Every time I had an opportunity to rebuild my confidence, my body would change again. I went from being a size F in bras to completely being flat (not by choice) in less than a year. I suffered from burns during radiation and had to deal with the discoloration of my neck, chest, and armpit. I experienced bone pain and lost a great amount of range of motion in my arms, so exercising has been difficult. I lost all my hair in chemotherapy and am learning to deal with the process of regrowing it. I am still going through significant changes. One of the biggest struggles for me right now is being flat.
Some women choose to stay flat, love it, and rock it beautifully. But I have now been flat for about seven months, and it's been tough. At first, being flat felt great. I used to complain about how uncomfortable my large breasts were all the time. So, it was nice to feel good in clothes that I had never been able to wear. For instance, you would have never caught me wearing a backless or strapless top or dress before, because I had to wear supportive bras. But, as time went by, I noticed that I became really insecure in my own skin. I would look down at my body and see my stomach. This was never possible before. I became more aware of my weight and felt like my body was disproportionate.
This insecurity followed me into the bedroom. Because I didn't feel sexy, I wouldn't engage in sex with my partner. My partner was also my primary caregiver, so our relationship just took a back seat to our new responsibilities. He tended to me and the household. And I worked on recovering. We both believed that once I was "done with cancer," we would go back to being sexually active. But that didn't happen. It also did not help that when we did try having sex, it was painful for me -- a fun side effect that most doctors forget to inform you about. David was understanding, but eventually he expressed that he was unsure how our relationship would last without intimacy. This crushed me, but he was right. We lacked intimacy in and out of the bedroom.
To repair my relationship, I knew I needed to fall back in love with myself. So, I took photos of myself, spent more time being naked, masturbated, and wore clothing that made me feel sexy. I followed RuPaul’s words of wisdom, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" My focus was on me and relearning to appreciate and enjoy my body.
Little by little, I gained some confidence back, but what really helped me repair my relationship was talking with David about my insecurities. During my treatment, I kept my feelings about my body to myself. I didn’t really talk with David about this issue. I had so many other priorities – like, literally fighting for my life. David also didn’t share his feelings with me, because fighting cancer was what he wanted me to focus on. But serious conversations were what we needed to build intimacy and trust.
Our conversations helped us realize that we both were experiencing depression. We committed to being more open with each other, having date nights, and connecting. Acknowledging our insecurities helped us move past them and try harder in our relationship. Of course, we aren't perfect, but we’ve learned that when you work on yourself, your relationship benefits. I still don't absolutely love my body, but I am learning to love it more and more every day.
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