What did I actually loose when I had breast cancer you may wonder?
You already know ‘how’ and the ‘when.’ What I lost was a) my breasts and that impacted on b) my body shape and c) a temporary loss of identity, as well as the loss of d) my belief that life will be fine, the confiance innocente dans la vie (Innocent trust in life). It is complex because each factor is separate yet they impact on each other. The sense of ‘being-ness’ in myself (identity) is partly related to me being a woman; fully woman, as I perceived it to be for myself. So yes this was challenging. And yes there was grief and mourning. In this post I will write about how it impacted my sexuality; then in the future I will cover body shape changes and dress challenges; and finally I will post about my acceptance that life will not always be fine but I can make the most of life anyway.
My identity as a feminine being was challenged because I connected breasts to being feminine. I didn’t feel attractive after loosing them. I had to ask myself what it meant to feel attractive. What I finally learnt is that I am more than my breasts as a woman even although we as woman are continually reminded through media that what you look like and conform to is so important.
I felt like I looked more like a teletubby than a sexual goddess. Of course there are some of us who desire to feel like sexual goddesses and we think we have to look like one if we want to feel like one; this is not true.
Let your light shine.
I learnt that being attractive comes from the inside. It shines or glows through your eyes and smile; as does being unattractive which exudes through grumpy frowns, glowers and nasty words. Depending if you let your life-light shine through your body and face; your whole being, your essence, is either attractive or unattractive; it is dependent on your attitude and behavior. I had to rework that idea in my heart. I wasn’t just a pretty smile or big breasts. I had not changed on the inside even although my body had changed on the outside. I was beginning to find my way. I hope I became a nicer person through it all. I would catch myself being grumpy and choose to let my light shine rather because I wanted to be an attractive person from the inside.
Femininity and sexual attractiveness
I had split my acceptable self (soul) from my unacceptable self (my body). We have all been attuning ourselves from childhood to know what looks cool, what works, what is acceptable, right and good in order to be liked, popular, acknowledged and admired.
One’s body is not bad or ugly – you do not have to carry shame, anger, stress or fear. Treat it with respect. Begin to discern when your body is experiencing anger, or fear, etc. don’t push it down. Admit it and do something constructive about it. Your body is a part of a whole (body-mind-soul). Love yourself – body, mind and soul.
I realized I had to stop trying to be something more or different than/to what I was; stop pretending. I had to admit and accept: I am who I am. I had to embrace not having breasts that had feeling. This vulnerability is true nakedness or nudity. This is what I finally learnt: ‘My internal me has a mystical encounter with you/other, with myself and God.’
Sexuality and attractiveness is a real issue. Having breasts was a real part of my/our sexual relationship, as I am sure it is for many of you. It is a normal way to become turned on. Without breast it is a challenge. We could either pretend nothing had happened or get on with acknowledging the loss and how it impacted me/us. We had to talk openly about our desires, disappointments, frustrations and pain to one another. There are other ways of being sexual, other than breasts. I did not find a lot on line for people without breasts. I searched in libraries. I felt disheartened, angry, frustrated, disappointed, and cheated. It was all very well for people to comment: ‘you are lucky to have your life back’ but I wanted to thrive not just live. My sexuality was part of my life and that was not back the way I remember it to be, it would be different forever (much like covid 19 will change the world forever, it will never be the same but you will have to look for ways of being that will make meaning for you in the future.) I had even read Esther Perel’s books on relationships; on her recommendation I read ‘the Bucket List’ by Georgia Clark, a story that she thought could help. I was disappointed but maybe it might help others. Here is a quote from Esther Perel’s Facebook page: ‘It’s about a young woman who, facing the possibility of a preventative double mastectomy due to hereditary breast cancer, creates a “boob bucket list” to come to terms with this possible loss.
Just because a woman might not have her breasts any more, does not mean she can’t be cherished and kissed and caressed and adored. People who do not have whole, “perfect” bodies have permission to be made love to.’ Yes I agreed with Esther Perel so I continued to search.
Our union – erotic language re-set
Human love is a mirror of divine love; the inner life, a mystical love.
The experts suggest: to boost, revive or strengthen your sexual relationship resist having sex for 3 days, or more. Delight in one another in non-genital touch. There is a difference between arousing and delighting. Explore the possibilities of different types of touch. Let’s take the artist as a metaphor and imagine yourself as an artist. There are many unique styles of handwriting just as there are many styles of drawing or painting; and so too there are many unique styles of loving. Think about drawing being made up of different strokes: short, long, light, heavy, circular, repetitive, alternating, etc., you get the idea. There is also much to explore on the ‘canvas’. You don’t have to paint in one area only; try painting everywhere and anywhere. Each of us has a language other than words; it is spoken through your body, your hands, your acts, your art, and dance; all an expression of you. Richard Rohr says ‘how you do anything is how you do everything.’ So join in and participate in life in every situation.
Said more plainly there are many erogenous zones on the body; the skin is a huge playground. If you want to enlarge your experience you must invest time and effort to explore these zones in a relaxed and light hearted way. If you are too serious about it it will kill your erotic drive. Your mind might need rewiring, like a record player’s grooves being cut, your mind needs to re-adjust to new habits, once they are set in place the new behaviour becomes the new pleasurable ‘dance.’
I felt like I looked like a man as my shape had changed. I had to get use to my new body. I was never going to have my old body back. It will be different. I had to accept that – as I was not a conventional shape anymore; two or three sizes smaller on top. Over time I have managed to reprogram my mind in order to live a fuller life. Next time I will tell you about my real struggle to find clothes that fit my shape.
Look after yourselves and the world around you. Flatten the curve.
Take care to live life well, even if you are confined in these days .
If you want to read the sequence of events from the beginning you can find them here:
First Discovering I had cancer
second Meeting my surgeon
Forth Facing my fear of surgery
Fifth I am on fire: breast surgery recovery
Sixth Why me, Cancer, why me?
Seventh Breast reconstruction
Eighth Bilateral mastectomy’s sexual challenge