How A Breast Cancer Fight Affects Intimacy

by | Jul 21, 2020 | Research | 5 comments

I get so many questions from women who are fighting breast cancer, or who have come through the other side, wondering what happens now?

Have we lost intimacy? Will our marriage survive?

I’ve watched many friends, my sister-in-law, and even my mother walk through breast cancer. And over this last year I’ve watched my friend Ann Mainse from afar (well, from Facebook) as she highlighted the struggles she was facing, with her husband Ron by her side.

I’ve known Ann for many years. I sat on the couch with her a few times on 100 Huntley Street, where she used to host (she’s on the far left; I’m second to the right). And I’ve shared the stage with her at different events.

But most of all, I know Ann as someone who has tried to dedicate her life to pursuing Christ and showing others what healthy relationships look like. She and Ron run an amazing marriage ministry and co-host the TV show A Better Us.

Ann’s recently written “Coffee with Him“,  a very raw and honest series of devotionals for women walking through painful times, whether it’s cancer or miscarriages or betrayals or even COVID, and I invited her to share some thoughts about her cancer fight and her marriage with us today.

Breast Cancer and Intimacy

Like a diamond, there are so many facets to marriage.

On your wedding day, whether they were revealed or not, you committed to them all.

The intricate cuts. The light-bending angles. The minute imperfections.

Some of its colours are rainbow vibrant and others are storm-cloud gray. But no matter the hues, they all come together to form the larger picture of a beautifully flawed masterpiece-in-the-making.

And that’s how it should be.

It’s what we committed to at the altar.

But what happens when some outside force steps in and threatens to alter the colours of what the two of you are creating? To change the picture?

What happens when one of you gets cancer?

One month before our 35th wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And immediately my life changed.

But not in the way you might think.

It was as if someone had suddenly placed a clarifying filter on the picture of my life. One that sharpened the hazy spots and enhanced the dimmer colours.

It was a filter that, for me, redefined intimacy.

For many of us, the word intimacy conjures up what we would consider the ultimate intimate act… sex. And rightly so. Sex is a beautiful expression of a deep and lasting commitment. And let’s face it, it’s fun!

Ann and Ron Mainse

The problem comes when we use sex to define our primary form of intimacy.

For true intimacy isn’t so much an action as it is an attitude. It’s a mindset that sees the deepest part of our spouse and in turn offers the deepest part of ourself.

It’s risky. It’s breath-stealing. It’s glorious.

And to borrow from C.S. Lewis, that kind of deeper intimacy is “the love on which the engine of marriage is run.”

That’s not to diminish our need for a passionate, physical connection. It’s just to put that expression into proper perspective.

And sometimes it takes something like cancer to remind us of that.

True intimacy: wild passion, yes… but tender moments too.

And the latter was made crystal clear to me while I was going through three months of chemotherapy…

As you can imagine, chemo took its toll on my body.

I experienced ALL of the side-effects. From extreme nausea… to debilitating fatigue… to diminished appetite… to total hair loss. And that last one was the worst.

As women, our hair is a huge part of how we present ourselves. It’s the first focus of our “look.” For some, rightfully or not, it represents identity. For me, it’s what my husband, Ron, said he first noticed about me. The beautiful 18-year-old blonde.

And now that identity was gone.

When the chemo caused my hair to fall out, I went completely bald. Completely. Shiny-skin bald. A devastating, daily humbling reality. One I had to come to terms with.

Ann Mainse Breast Cancer

Ron with Ann at her sixth chemo treatment.

Over the course of those months of treatments, quite often Ron would lead me to a comfy chair and gently massage my scalp with lotion. It felt wonderful.

But that’s not all. Ron would then do something even more special.

Without fail, to end the massage, he would tenderly kiss that shiny skin and then whisper the words, “I love this beautiful head.”

That is intimacy.

There are times in the making of the masterpiece of your marriage that you’re forced to blend the colours. The definition between light and dark gets blurred, and you do your best to bring beauty out of the chaos.

During those times, you need to remember something. Don’t be afraid of the process.

Don’t be afraid to confront the hard times, and in the process redefine what you hold most dear in your relationship.

Don’t be afraid to trudge through unfamiliar territory together, sharing the same step, protecting the same heart.

Don’t be afraid of the process.

For if you let it, this process will reveal a depth in what you’re creating that transcends any surface beauty.

And you will go deeper together.

And you will be closer than ever.

Such is the case with intimacy.

Such is the case with love.

“To love and to cherish…
For better or worse…
For richer or poorer…
In sickness and in health…”

Coffee with Him is a 31-day devotional for anyone going through a difficult journey, as everyone faces unexpected bumps in the road, whether it be a health issue, a relationship breakdown, financial struggles or something else. As she openly details the trials and triumphs, fears and tears from her own experience fighting cancer, Mainse invites readers facing the tough twists and turns of everyday life to receive comfort, courage, hope and healing from God.

Have you ever known an even deeper level of intimacy with your spouse through trials? Or have you walked through breast cancer? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kristen

    Your account of the deep love between you and your husband moved me to tears, Ann. My heart breaks for you two for having to walk through this, but thank you so much for sharing.
    My granny just finished radiation treatments last week. She was diagnosed with breast cancer over a year ago at age 78. It’s been a very long year, and she’s tired, but she’s also so happy to be done. To be honest, I didn’t think she’d be able to withstand all the treatment she’s been through at her age, but watching her has shown me where I get some of my own determination. 😉
    All of this to say, I know it’s tough right now, but I just wanted to leave a little word of encouragement and let you guys know I’m rooting for you – and God is, too.

  2. Heather Gaffney

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 2nd, 2020. And I know this is a blog about marriage, but I’ve been reading since before my husband left me 8 years ago. Of course, the title caught my eye.
    Ann, what you wrote about your hair was exactly what I was feeling. I’d had a hysterectomy 11 years ago, I just lost my breast, I was told I’d be taking hormone blockers at the end of my treatments, and I’ve lost my hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes. I was wondering what made me feminine anymore… In fact, when people talk about body image and ask you to name 3 or 5 things you like about yourself, my top two were always my long hair and my long eyelashes.
    As of today, I have two more radiation treatments. I’ve been through chemo and two surgeries. My hair finally started growing back 9 weeks after chemo ended. But I’ve never showed anyone my bald head; with the exception of my daughter who is the one who shaved it since I couldn’t go to a salon during covid. The one time I saw it, it just reinforced my lack of femininity. I thought I was looking at a man in the mirror.
    While I don’t miss my ex-husband (as he was abusive), I found myself longing for that intimacy; that emotional intimacy that you described. My kids helped, my mother helped, and my sister helped. But it was not the same.
    If it’s ok with Sheila, I’ll leave my blog url so you can click on my name. I’ve started chronicling my breast cancer journey. Thank you, Ann, for your story!

  3. Lindsey

    This brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  4. Bethany#2

    When I had a blood clot in my lungs, from pp, I had to be in the hospital for 4 days. And when I got released, I could barely stand. And it felt like a small window into the world of those who have bigger health issues. Chris had to step up and basically do everything for me, because I couldn’t. I always felt guilty before that, letting anyone help me.
    Experiencing health scares, it opens up a new appreciation for life! And intimate moments become more valued.


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