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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Navigating Relationships After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis



Breast cancer is a life-altering experience, not just for the individuals diagnosed but also for their loved ones. It's a time when fears and uncertainties surface, requiring personal courage and the delicate task of sharing this life-changing news with your loved ones. Breast cancer can bring about significant changes in personal relationships, creating shifts in family dynamics, friendships, and romantic relationships.


Relationships can be strained under the weight of breast cancer treatment and beyond. Understanding how to maintain and adapt relationships during and after breast cancer treatment is crucial for emotional support and recovery. A robust support system is vital, yet breast cancer often brings intricate interpersonal dynamics to the forefront.

 

To navigate these complexities, we offer insightful tips on fostering and maintaining relationships throughout your treatment and in the transformative period that follows. The following guidelines will empower you and your loved ones, strengthening bonds in the face of adversity.


Family Dynamics

Family members may struggle with fear and uncertainty, which can lead to changes in their behavior toward their loved one with breast cancer. It's essential for family members to seek support, possibly through resources like the Family Caregiver Alliance.


Romantic Relationships

Breast cancer often has profound impacts on romantic relationships, altering dynamics in ways both challenging and subtle. The physical and emotional toll of treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can lead to significant changes in body image, sexual desire, and overall energy levels. These changes often require partners to adopt new roles, fostering deeper communication, understanding, and patience. 


The experience can bring couples closer as they navigate the complexities of support, caregiving, and emotional intimacy. However, it can also strain relationships as partners grapple with fear, uncertainty, and the demands of ongoing care. Breast cancer often necessitates a redefinition of intimacy and partnership, requiring both individuals to adapt to new realities and find strength in each other's support and resilience.




Friendships

Breast cancer treatment can significantly impact a person's social life, including friendships. When someone undergoes physical and emotional changes from treatment, their ability to maintain social activities and interactions may decrease. Friends may struggle with how to offer support, sometimes leading to misunderstandings or distancing. People going through breast cancer treatment might feel isolated due to their health situation or the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue or mood changes.


Sometimes, these challenges can also strengthen friendships, as some friends may become more empathetic, understanding, and supportive. They might engage in new, more accommodating activities and provide a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, deepening the bonds of friendship. However, the dynamic changes brought on by breast cancer treatment necessitate sensitivity and adaptability from both the person with breast cancer and their friends.


Communication Strategies

Deciding what to share about your cancer diagnosis and choosing who to share it with is an intensely personal decision. It's important to move forward in a way that feels most comfortable and right for you now. To assist you in navigating through the potential communication challenges, here are some tips and suggestions that may prove helpful.


Telling Family and Friends

  • Be direct and honest. Don't beat around the bush. Explain your diagnosis simply and clearly, reducing confusion and speculation. Share details like your cancer stage and treatment plan, if you’re comfortable.

  • Let people know how they can help. Give loved ones guidance on what you need: help with meals, rides to treatment, childcare, or simply emotional support. People want to be there for you, but may not know how.

  • Accept offers of help. Don't feel like you need to take on everything yourself. Let family and friends contribute where possible; it makes them feel helpful.

  • Set boundaries if needed. Be direct and let people know if they’re being overbearing or if you need space. You get to decide what support works best for you.

  • Connect people to resources. Share information from organizations like SurvivingBreastCancer.org on how people can be supportive caregivers.




Handling Relationship Dynamics

  • Talk openly with your partner. Maintaining intimacy may be challenging with body image concerns or medications affecting libido. Discuss your needs and concerns openly. 

  • Seek counseling if needed. A cancer diagnosis can strain even the healthiest relationships. Professional help can provide tools to navigate challenges. Your care team can recommend counseling resources.

  • Connect with support groups. Speaking with others in a similar place can provide perspective. 


SurvivingBreastCancer.org provides many opportunities to meet others facing breast cancer to ensure you’re never alone. Instead, you’re surrounded by others who have similar experiences. We offer several peer-to-peer online meetups, including all stages and types of breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer (MBC), inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), and a Spanish-language meetup.


  • Make time for yourself. Give yourself space for self-care like journaling, gentle exercise, or other enjoyable hobbies. You need to look after your mental health first.

  • Set boundaries with friends. It's okay to not feel up for social events or hosting. True friends will understand your needs. Be honest about your energy and comfort levels.




Rebuilding Intimacy During and After Treatment



  • Communicate your needs. Speak openly with your partner about what types and levels of intimacy you feel ready or not ready for. Maintaining intimacy may be challenging with body image concerns or medications affecting libido. Discuss your needs and concerns openly. Go slowly.

  • Give affection freely. Non-sexual intimacy, like hugging or hand-holding, builds emotional closeness. Affection can pave the way for sexual intimacy later.

  • Consider couples counseling. Many couples benefit from having an impartial third party help them work through intimacy challenges during and after treatment. Don't be afraid to get professional help.

  • Explore new approaches. If your old ways of being intimate no longer feel right, brainstorm new ideas together. Intimacy can take many forms.

  • Use aids if needed. Products like lubricants or vaginal dilators can aid physical readiness for intercourse. Shop together to reduce shyness.

  • Focus on pleasure. Intercourse may not be possible initially. Explore other activities you both find pleasurable, like massage. Remove pressure.


Rebuilding intimacy after a breast cancer diagnosis requires patience, communication, and commitment. With time, openness, and experimentation, you can reconnect and resume your sex life. Support organizations can provide guidance specific to your situation. Don't be afraid to seek help.


Count On Us for Information, Resources, and Support 

Navigating relationships during and after breast cancer treatment is complex and requires patience, understanding, and open communication. Utilizing resources and seeking professional help can ease this process, providing the support needed for you and your loved ones.


Whether you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, are navigating survivorship, or are the loved one of someone experiencing breast cancer, you can count on SurvivingBreastCancer.org to keep you informed. We provide educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, treatment options, surgery, etc., and podcasts that feature professionals, advocates, and caregivers who share valuable information.


Your donations enable SurvivingBreastCancer.org to offer resources and support every day, every month, and every year.

 

Note: This article is designed to provide general information and not replace professional medical advice. Always discuss your options with your healthcare provider.



Learn more:








On the Podcast: Breast Cancer Conversations


Sexual Health and Breast Cancer with Dr. Bober





SurvivingBreastCancer.org Resources & Support:



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Upcoming Events

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Surviving Breast Cancer provides breast cancer support, events, and webinars at no cost to you! Whether you are looking to gain more knowledge on a particular topic or meet up with other breast cancer survivors, we have something for everyone. 

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Our standing appointment on Thursdays is for all stages. We also host specific breakout groups once a month for specific stages and subtypes such as Metastatic breast cancer, and Inflammatory Breast Cancer, etc. 

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