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

Real women, real romance

Real women share the most romantic thing someone’s ever done for them… And you’d be surprised at how much of an impression the little things make.

How to get the man of your dreams

Alissa is a beautiful and successful massage therapist–complete with her own podcast! This woman has done a stunning job at composing her life. However, when it came to finding Mr. Right, Alissa needed a bit of assistance.

After a string of heart wrenching breakups, Alissa opened herself up to the idea that she might need some professional help. She signed up for a course called “Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women,” which centered on the ideas of understanding men, knowing what you want and knowing what it takes to create a great partnership.

So what did she learn?

Check out these four tips for preparing yourself for a healthy relationship.

1. Get yourself together.

Remember those airline instructions from that last flight you took? You can’t do anything for anybody else until you’ve put on your own air mask. Be the grownup in your life, help yourself get it together first, then you’ll be better equipped when a the right person comes along.

2. Be honest about what you want.

One really great way to make knowing what you want into getting what you want is to say it out loud. Even write it all down and tell other people, keeping our wants and needs to ourselves doesn’t get us anywhere.

We have to have enough self-confidence and self-love to walk away from the things that we don’t want and be brave and bold enough to ask for what we do want without reservation. Practice authenticity, practice truth and practice getting what you want by saying it out loud every day.

3. Learn to speak their language.

Men speak in layers and in time they will reveal more of themselves to you if you give them the space and silence to uncover those layers. When you ask questions, wait, sit quietly and listen. Alissa found that it’s in that quiet that a man reveals the depth of who he is. He’ll give you the superficial, then a little deeper and then the juicy stuff. It takes practice but in the end it works.

When it’s your turn, keep it focused and figure out exactly what you want insight on. When a man is listening to a woman, he’s taking it all in. He’s going to wait until you’re finished before he gives you an answer.

4. Don’t turn yourself into a pretzel.

Alissa discovered that her relationships were failing because she was constantly contorting herself. She would find men who were the basic molds of what she wanted but then instead of remaining solid in the woman that she is, she would begin to meld into what she thought they wanted of her. Alissa wasn’t able change her ways until she realized that twisting herself into something she wasn’t would never allow someone get to know the real her.

After taking time to learn more about communication, Alissa is in a more confident, clearly open space. “I’m going to try to understand who the man sitting across from me is. If this man is a square, I am not going to try so hard to fit him into a triangle of what I want. I can take my triangle and move on, and that’s okay. It’s a whole new world for me now, it’s a whole new way of dating and relating with men. And it’s a lot more fun.”

Click here to tune in to Alissa’s weekly podcast for insight on understanding your man and more importantly, yourself.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Charming—But Single
This jaded-by-love Southern Belle likes both her drinks and her men tall.

Making it Work
Follow the path to healthier relationships in your life.

Speaking of Sex
You know that old lady who’s sometimes on Oxygen at 10 or 11 at night showing off new vibrators and answering people’s sex questions in such a matter of fact way that it almost de-sexes the topic. She’s great.

Confronting interracial relationship issues

When Kristin met Will, she knew they were going to have something special.

“It was pretty much serious from the start.”

Even though their relationship was wonderful, Kristin was nervous about telling her parents about her new boyfriend.

“He was the first black guy I had ever dated–not because he was black, but because we liked each other and were attracted to each other,” she says.

She knew that her mom and step-dad would be caught off guard, but one of Kristin’s biggest concerns was telling her grandmother. “For two years she knew all about him, but didn’t know he was black.”

Her grandmother has always been supportive of everything she had done with her life had been really proud of all she had accomplished. Kristin was her only grandchild and she didn’t want to disappoint her grandma. Part of Kristin believed that she would be accepting of her relationship, but she knew that at 85, her grandma’s view of the world was quite a bit different than her own.

Kristen knows that she is really bad about not wanting to talk about controversial things or deal with confrontation. “I let issues grow until they are something that I can’t manage alone. In the end, the things that usually seem to be such a big deal turn out to be nothing. Sometimes the worrying is worse than the actual event.”

Through this experience, Kristin learned that despite generational gaps and differences in life outlooks, everyone understands what it means to be in love. She shouldn’t have agonized over telling Granny for two and a half years; instead she should have bitten the bullet and dealt with it.

Her one regret is that she could have been more open about things, as a family and as couple.

If you have problems with confrontation, Kristen offers these 4 things to keep in mind.

1. It’s okay to be afraid. Ask for help.
2. Consider other people’s life experiences.
3. Give it time.
4. Do it sooner rather than later.

Visit this forum for opinions, discussions and articles on the subject of interracial relationships, courtesy of WordPress.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

We’ve Come a Long Way
Did you know that interracial marriage was legalized only 40 years ago? Visit Loving Day, where free and open love is celebrated.

A Lifelong Commitment
You said I do, but what if you realize that’s harder than it sounds? Find advice at Marriage Builders.

Story of a Secret
Learn more about “Secret Daughter,” a PBS documentary that tells the story of a mixed race girl and the mom who gave her up.

Gardening for a Cure

Linda’s mother was 86 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors wanted to perform experimental radiation therapy, rather than go in and biopsy and try to take out anything. Because of her age, they were afraid she wouldn’t make it through the experimental surgery. Linda and her sisters told their mother she didn’t have to go through with it.

“Are you kidding?” her mother responded. “Even if it doesn’t do anything for me, I will do this for you, I will do this for your daughters and their daughters.”

After her mother died, Linda wanted to do something to honor her, something concrete. “I wanted to do something to help her, something concrete. Then she had an epiphany that truly changed her life.

Rather than become paralyzed, Linda was able to keep the memory of her mother alive and share her process of healing with others. Visit Personal Sanctuaries blog to find out more about taking a garden tour.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Garden All Over the World
Love gardens? This all-inclusive tour will take you from Ecuador’s tropical flora to China, where the blossoms grow.

Preserving the Beauty
The Garden Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s most beautiful historical gardens.

A Breast Cancer Lifeline
Understand symptoms, treatments, research and how to lower your risk. It could just save your life.

Think Pink!
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website lends a helping hand to women coping with chemotherapy-induced side effects and shows you how to get involved.

Why Me Wisdom
Blogger Whymommy describes the pleasures and perils of raising two young boys while battling inflammatory breast cancer.

Check Yourself!
The circle, the line, or the wedge? Health Central’s handy instructional video teaches you three ways to give your girls a thorough self-exam.

Save the Ta-tas
Make funding a cure fun and fashionable with sassy t-shirts, skirts and sweat suits designed by Julia Fiske. Save the Ta-tas has used its two greatest assets to donate almost $100,000 to the fight against cancer.

Secrets for making love last

Real life love. It’s not easy, watch to see how these women work at creating love for a lifetime.

Coping with loss: Artwork helped me heal

Liz’s younger sister was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that forms inside the body cavities and around the vital organs–she was not yet 30.

“By the time they found it, the cancer was touching all of her organs,” Liz recalls. “She went through major surgery, which gave her four to five years.”

Liz knew that her entire family would have to help her sister Rebecca through her illness, but she wasn’t sure she would know what to do. But as is the case when caring for somone you love, crisis forced Liz to discover things about herself that she had never explored, including her limitations. Because her sister she was always incredibly hopeful, she did not want people crying around her. “She was very much, ‘if you are going to cry, I can not talk to you,’ and she would not talk to me for a month until I could gain my composure.”

Liz learned to restrict her emtions through helping her sister. Becoming the person that her sister needed, fulfilled her own needs. Although she had recently completed graduate school to figure out who she was, it was the time she spent with her sister that taught her true confidence in her capabilities.

“I think that is what is so amazing about the experience is that I walked away, obviously really grief stricken and really upset that I had lost this person. But I had this experience that tested who I was.”

After her sister’s death, LIz went back to work. Althogh this seemed impossible, she reminded herself, “All I have to do is make sure these kids are safe and that I am teaching them, but my 100% may be different today.” She got to a certain point where getting up in the morning, going to work, and going through the motions became part of the healing process. Eventually motions become beacons of stregth.

The instant she found out her sister was sick, Liz’s idenity as an artist undrewent a transformation. “I was still making art because it’s something I have to do, but all of the critique talk that went on in graduate school went out the window. I found myself making work and taking that time to reflect and quite myself down.”

Her artwork became a physical form of how she was dealing with the pain. It also became a way to integrate part of her sister into her own life. “My sister decided what she wanted to do and she made it happen. Now with my own life, when I sit back at the end of the day and I say, ‘What have I done and where do I want to be,’ it comes down to the fact I want to make art and I want to teach.”

Like many of us who have lost loved ones, Liz kept seeing her sister in all sorts of things and people after she died. Liz and her sisters would believe that Rebecca was giving them a sign if the lights flickered in the room.

The arch continues to change–she’s now at a point where doesn’t need that shape anymore. “The shape I am seeing now is a circle or an oval, and I guess you could say it is completeness.”

Liz just sold her first big piece and it is of an arch. The woman she sold it to asked her to explain what it was. Although she typically leaves interpretation to the viewer, Liz felt like she had to tell her. After explaining the story, the women explained that her husband had passed away from cancer several years ago, it was a beautiful and intimate moment.

Liz’s advice to other people who are helping someone with cancer is, “You really just need to give this person what they need. She told us what she needed and we did it to the best of our abilities. All you have to do is make it through the day, that’s all you have to do.”

There is no easy way to get through traumatic events, but there are some things to keep in mind while time heals the wounds. Understand symptoms, how to care for yourself, and how to recover, check out these tips at the University of Iowa.

Young & Restless
As bewildering as death is for adults, it’s even worse for children and teens, whose life concepts aren’t as secure. Learn how to help the young grieve and cope with loss at DirectGov.

Why Me Wisdom
Blogger Whymommy describes the pleasures and perils of raising two young boys while battling inflammatory breast cancer.

Staying Informed
A devoted husband presents the latest news in medicine, research, and his wife’s heroic struggle against cancer.