Sex Diaries: 'My Cancer Is Gone But It Has Destroyed My Sex Life Forever'

I'm 44, and the effects of my cancer treatment mean I'd be happy never to have sex again.

Sex Diaries is a fortnightly series on HuffPost UK that asks readers to share their sex lives: to talk about the sex they’re having (or not). Interested in anonymously sharing your story? Email

I was diagnosed with advanced stage three breast cancer in July 2015. I had no family history or real risk factors; I was physically active and a doctor so I knew what to look for. Six months earlier, I’d had a cyst in the same breast six months so initially, I thought the lump was just another cyst. But it wasn’t. I had to have chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy. The lump was 13cm in size and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.

When I finished radiotherapy, I was put on hormone therapy but it came back on my chest wall in May 2018. I had more surgery, radiotherapy and then my ovaries removed. Now I’m coming up to a year clear again, but once the cancer is gone, you’re left trying to work out how to get your life back – and sex is an important part of that.

I’ve been through the menopause twice, chemotherapy made me infertile, and it’s killed my sex life. Before the surgery I had a lump in my breast that my partner didn’t know whether to touch or ignore during sex. Then treatment meant I lost my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows: everything that makes you classically feminine and sexy. Should my partner touch my bald head and risk reminding me about the cancer?

Now I only have one breast and a scar that I don’t look at. I can’t wear pretty bras to feel sexy. I feel like a dried-up, shrivelled 80-year-old.

“A stroke on the back of the neck is nice. But then so is a cup of tea."”

The chemotherapy makes you menopausal overnight. The first time I had a hot flush in bed, I thought I’d wet myself – I’d be so hot I didn’t want my husband to hug me. Then your libido disappears so that you find your partner aesthetically attractive, but you don’t get physically turned on.

Those erogenous zones that used to work? Nothing. A stroke on the back of the neck is nice. But then so is a cup of tea.

Oestrogen is a natural lubricant. Because my ovaries were removed and I take a tablet to stop me making oestrogen, like many women after the menopause, sex can be painful. Your vagina can be dry and tight, even when you’re in the mood.

I’ve learned how to have sex again by talking to other patients on Twitter. A bag of tricks is essential – a small vibrator and vaginal dilators combined with vaginal oestrogen pessaries and a lubricant does the job. I use ‘Yes’ lubricant that you might be able to get on NHS prescription.

It does mean sex is never spontaneous – we can’t just have a quickie – but it is possible. It also means that I’m often the one who has to initiate sex, as my husband is scared he might hurt me if he suggests it.

“Sex is never spontaneous - we can’t just have a quickie. It’s like booking the dentist."”

We had only been married a couple of years when the cancer happened. You vow to be together in sickness and health, but you never think the sickness is going to happen. There’s a whole load of guilt you can’t fix: I’m the one that might be dead in ten years – and you didn’t sign up for this.

I’ve spoken to other women who’ve wanted their husband to divorce them and go and find a normal woman with a healthy libido. I’ve said the same and half-heartedly meant it. It’s all too easy to become flatmates instead of husband and wife. Sex is often the glue that keeps a marriage together and it’s something we work on, but it’s tough. You put it in the diary, and hope that things will work when you do try.

One of the hardest things for me is watching couples on TV get turned on and have frantic sex (like that episode of Fleabag), knowing that will never happen to me again. Honestly I’d be happy if I never had sex again. I still love my husband but I don’t have that urge. That’s what the cancer has done to us.

As told to Sophie Gallagher