Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Intimacy in the life of a breast cancer survivor can be difficult, but it's not impossible.
Normally, I would never write about such deeply private things, but today, as I continue to post about the reality of a breast cancer survivor's life, I want to share this, even though it is difficult. Please know that this comes from the deepest part of my being and I will do my very best to choose my words carefully in order to help you truly understand the experience, but I won't say more than absolutely necessary. I want to be respectful of my marriage but at the same time, I think it's important for this to be shared.
Last night was the first time since my surgery that my husband and I have been intimate. For days, I'd been dreading this moment. I'd read all the brochures the hospital gave me about intimacy after breast cancer and I'd read horribly sad stories on the Internet from other survivors about how their mates had responded. I had no idea how the evening would go but I love my husband with all my heart and I would not deny him his rights.
The room was dark with night as he took my hand in his. He told me how very much he loved me and how he always would. Could he have known the trembling fear welling up inside me at that very moment? His tender, passionate kisses calmed my heart as torrents of tears poured forth. I was so ashamed of my body. I was thankful it was dark inside our bedroom and he couldn't see my scars. I don't know why I was so ashamed, I'd done nothing to bear the shame of cancer, but it had disfigured my body so drastically. Over and over again, he reassured me that I was beautiful. I wanted with all my heart to believe him, but I couldn't. If only he could see my pain ... but it was dark, so very dark.
After our time of sharing our love with one another, I was relieved. I was relieved that finally this dreaded moment was over. I had wondered what it would be like for days. I had imagined his reaction with trepidation. My husband amazed me. He chose to look past my scars and into my heart. He reaffirmed his love for me in the gentlest way. Why did I expect anything else? This man whom I've loved for the past 22 years has never ceased to amaze me with his loving attitude and life.
My husband has always treated me with love and respect, with kindness, gentleness and adoration. I am unworthy of such a love but I am so thankful that my life has been blessed with him. It was only natural for me to feel ugly and afraid. It was only natural for me to want to reject the intimate advances of my husband especially since I no longer resembled a real woman, but as he tenderly loved me, I was able to feel beautiful despite having no breasts. My dear, sweet husband wanted me to know that even though my physical appearance had been greatly altered, my heart had escaped unscathed. I was still loveable. I was still desirable. I was still beautiful.
Cancer demeans. Cancer steals joy. Cancer invokes fear and pain, but it cannot rob me of one of the greatest blessings of my life — the love of a real man who sees past my physical appearance and into my soul.
This was a difficult post to write because of the content. I am a very private person but I felt this was important and needed to be shared. I did my best to word this post in a respectful way so as not to offend anyone. My intention was not to draw attention to the sexual aspect of marriage but to give you a glimpse into the reality of this side of breast cancer.
Marriage is sacred and holy. It is not to be pornographic or perverted. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman wholly devoted to one another. When severe illness invades that union, sometimes one spouse decides to leave. I am so thankful my husband took our wedding vows seriously. When he said for “better or worse, in sickness and in health,” he meant it. I’m so glad he did.