Dear Dr Eve

I am 39 years old, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer 8 months ago. From the time of diagnosis until now, I have been on a roller coaster.  My body feels different, kind of no longer mine, my emotions are unpredictable and all over the show, and I do not want to have sex.  My husband is so supportive and understanding but when I feel him coming closer to me for sex, I turn away and pretend I’m asleep.  Is this normal? I am afraid I will lose my husband.




Hello Irene,

Imagine putting your finger into a wall socket.  Immediate shock, right?! Your whole body would respond in a certain way.  It would shake, vibrate, tremble.  Emotionally you would feel terror, alertness, anger and in your head you would think: ”Am I going to die?”.  Immediately you would do something to stay alive, anything to protect yourself to survive – scream for help, run away from the wall socket, freeze or faint

And so it is when receiving a diagnosis of cancer.

Automatically your body goes into protection mode.  Your body and brain go into action as you have let them know that you feel overwhelmed with fear. And when in this mode of protection, survival, there is very little energy or imagination that your body or brain gives you, to be sexual.

Cancer has a meaning for you, a meaning and belief that you have picked up from society, media, your own family/friend experiences.  It may mean death, incapacity, loss – many losses from body parts to overall health and lifestyle, to money and interpersonal relationships.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder happens on receiving a diagnosis of cancer.  It is a traumatic event, a traumatic experience that continues for many months and lays there, sometimes quietly, other times, not so quiet, for your whole life.

Perhaps you will find comfort in knowing the more common symptoms of PTSD with which cancer patients suffer:

  • Relieving your diagnosis in flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoiding conversations that may bring up your diagnosis
  • This could lead to social isolation
  • Feeling guilty, shameful or emotionally numb.
  • Feeling restless, jittery or hyperalert.
  • Hyper alertness, also known as hypervigilance, is a state of heightened awareness.
  • Emotionally dysregulated, that is, feeling emotionally out of control – or numb. 
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Hyper alert to every change in your body anticipating a return of the cancer
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Detachment from relationships

Rather than me giving you Tips and Techniques to have sex with your husband, my best tip is for you to find a trauma practitioner who can assist you in managing your PTSD.  Once you manage this and have skills to keep managing PTSD symptoms that may re occur during your future cancer care, come talk to me about how best to manage your sexuality.

Bear in mind that sexuality requires a presence in one’s body, safety and security with your body and a safety with being vulnerable with a partner. You have lots of great satisfying sex to look forward to once your mind and body learn how once again to regain control.

  1. Notice touches from your husband that you can endure, touches that give you pleasure, that create intimate connection.  And totally indulge yourself in this healing.

Dr Eve

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Take care

Marlene #stayhome

“Dear Dr Eve” is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let DR EVE use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.