I’ve lost a breast, not my sexuality!

With all of the scars, dents, weight gain, and hot flashes, is it possible for a breast cancer survivor to ever feel sexy again? Four breast cancer survivors are here to tell you: Oh, baby yes she can!

Take Paula Holland De Long. At age 37, she lost her left breast to cancer. She also lost her marriage.

“After I recovered from the surgery and from chemo, I was not the same person I used to be,” she says. “I was no longer driven by work and by money. My husband would look at me and ask, ‘Who are you and what have you done with Paula?’ One day I sat down to tell him that I wanted to quit my job. Instead I said that I didn’t think we should be together anymore.”

The divorce was amicable. Then Paula found herself dating again.

“At first I was really hesitant. I didn’t even want to tell people I’d had breast cancer until they got to know me better. Eventually, I learned to just say, ‘Hey, I’ve had breast cancer and if you have problems with scars, you probably will not want to go out with me.’”

Eventually Paula met Charles. When she told him her pat line about the scars, he took her hand, put it next to his heart, and said, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. You are beautiful to me.” They eventually married.

Like Paula, Stefanie LaRue worried what men would think of her disfigured right breast. After dating a few men, she eventually found herself in the shower with one. She’d never shown her breast to anyone in daylight before.

She said, “I don’t really have a breast on this side.”

He looked down and said, “Look at me. I only have one testicle! We’re a perfect pair.” It had been removed when he was 3 because it had never descended.

“I was so relieved,” LaRue says. “And now that I’ve gotten past that, I’m so much more confident.”

Veronica Gliatti had a similar experience. Before her treatment, she equated her sexuality with how she looked. After treatment, when chemo thrust her into early menopause and caused her to gain weight, she at first felt less attractive, despite the fact that her husband continually told her that she still was.

Eventually, however, she realized that, if the situation were reversed, she would not think of her husband as less attractive or desirable. She learned to feel sexy based on how she felt about herself and her partner.

“I feel more confident about myself than I did before because I’ve overcome a great battle,” she says. “I also feel more at ease with my husband than I did before because we’ve walked this journey together. I want to share all of myself with him. I do not want to take what time I have left for granted. There may be no tomorrow to express myself sexually. Why not express it today?”

Use this advice—from the breast cancer survivors who have been there and so done that—to get your groove back after treatment:

  • Take your time. It’s normal and natural to be embarrassed and to worry about what others will think. Tread slowly.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of acceptance. Most people are more accepting and more forgiving than most of us expect. “Don’t assume just because he is a male that he cannot understand,” says Gliatti.
  • Be sexy and feel sexy, says Gail Baker, survivor and author of Cancer is a Bitch. “My breasts had always been one of my best assets. The first time I saw my breasts after surgery, I burst into tears. It wasn’t until a few months later, when I ran a half marathon in New York with two girlfriends that I came to a place of acceptance. I told them that the scars made me feel less sexy. They begged me to show them. I inched my top down and one said, ‘scars are hot!’ It made me feel so much better. Flaws are hot. I can say that with great confidence now!”
  • Try something new, in any area of your life. “Confidence is the sexiest quality someone can display. It’s a magnet that attracts others to you, but you have to feel it so the other person will feel it, too,” says LaRue.
  • Have sex. Make yourself. Just do it. Remind yourself that you are still beautiful and still a woman. “Nobody can take away your vital passionate essence. It’s still there,” says Baker.
  • Evolve. “Do not approach sex the same way you did before. You are a new person now,” says Gliatti. “You are a new and better you.”

Are you struggling with physical and/or emotional intimacy and sexuality issues due to cancer? Breast cancer survivor and life coach Paula Holland De Long’s “Intimacy, Passion & Cancer” guided exploration group course might help you regain your confidence. This six-week telecourse begins on Tuesday January 14th and will meet weekly through February 17, 2009 from 1:00 – 2:30 pm EST. Cost $375. Contact Paula to register at 954-565-6894 or visit www.CoachForLivingOnline.com.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Rediscover Intimacy
A workshop for survivors

Stay connected during treatment
Free websites for survivors

Cancer is a Bitch
Where to Get Baker’s Memoir

Bellydancing — A Woman’s Workout

To watch her belly wave in and out and side to side as though she’d been doing it since the gypsies of 1000 AD, you’d never know that Teresa was all set to be a pharmacist before belly dancing shook her awake.

In the 12 years since she took a class with a pregnant friend, she has gone on to open a dance studio in Lexington, Ky., and perform on stages across the United States. When she steps into class, she helps women reconnect with what makes their bodies worthy of admiration and reverence that’s as long-standing as the human form itself.

“I’ve always been pretty physical, but belly dancing started bringing me into myself as a feminine creature,” Teresa said. “Belly dance, for me, is so good because it gives me that physical high, but it also connects you with music and your own sense of self and your feminine sensuality. You’re like, ‘Oh, okay. I like jewelry. I like being a goddess.'”

Teresa’s belly dancing practice has not only improved her mental state and made her more appreciative of her body, it’s also had physical benefits. In belly dancing, the torso is engaged at all times, so any movements you make work your obliques, your lower abs and your hips.

According to Teresa, “A belly dancer prides herself on being able to isolate all her body parts, to independently move her chest or move her hips or move her belly or move her head or whatever. There are all these amazing isolations happening, and they involve huge amounts of physicality.”

Learning to move the way Mother Nature intended doesn’t come instinctively. Even Teresa admits to feeling lost when she first got started, and she likens the experience to learning a foreign language.

“If you initially come in and get totally caught up in the technical aspects of which muscle is moving, your brain won’t let you have it because it’s not the way you move in your daily life,” she said. “Just like learning a foreign language, you might first learn how to pronounce the words. Then you’re able to form sentences. And then you can speak in paragraphs. And then you don’t sound like Tarzan when you speak.”

The kinship with other dancers is also an attractive part of belly dancing, and Teresa has performed with some of the best contemporary dancers on the planet, including Rachel Brice. Brice is probably the best belly dancer in the world, and to see why, watch this.

Where in the world can you take a belly dance class, you ask? Try http://www.bellydanceclasses.net/, a comprehensive, global list of instructors and studios all over the world.

To dress the part, check out Velvet Peacock Designs, a woman-owned and operated business in Maui.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Notes from the Belly
At Teresa’s dance studio and gallery, you can get in touch with your inner dance goddess.

Poi-ty Please
Enter the world of poi by stopping by the Home of Poi, the fire twirling authority. Find friends, get online lessons, understand equipment, and, most importantly, you won’t get burned.

Hoop It Up
Find hoops, DVDs, classes, clothes, performances and everything else you need to wrap your mind around the hooping phenomenon.

Ohm My Gosh!
Can’t seem to find any peace and quiet? Find yoga classes, events, businesses, products and lots more at Yoga Finder.