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How to cope with body image changes after breast cancer treatment

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Posted at 1:04 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 13:04:27-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A breast cancer diagnosis can cause many changes in how a patient feels about their body image and sexual health.

Survivor Meegan Lybolt was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. She says chemotherapy and surgery changed how she viewed her body.

"You know you'll end up having scars on your body," she said. "I knew I would have them intellectually, but emotionally it wasn't what I expected."

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Dr. MeLanie Modjoros is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist with Sexual Health Consultants in Falls Church.

She says it's normal for everyone's relationship with sex to change as they go through life and a breast cancer diagnosis can trigger one of those changes.

Modjoros says patients can become dissociated from their breasts.

"They start as sexual organs then areas that were associated with intimacy and vulnerability with their partner become areas to be examined and poked and prodded and cut and radiated," Modjoros explained.

She says whether a patient is partnered or single makes a difference in their needs and how she treats them. For someone with a partner, she often brings both people in for a session. Modjoros says partners often don't want to talk to the patient about their sexual needs because cancer treatment is the priority.

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Dr. MeLanie Modjoros

"They're experiencing breast cancer treatment and an impact on their sexual life and sexuality and how they felt about the breasts before they had breast cancer and after so that gets really complicated," said Modjoros.

Seven years after diagnosis, Meegan Lybolt says she's doing great and a lot of that is because of her supportive husband.

Meegan says they had open communication before the diagnosis and that continued as she moved toward her new normal.

"I was really nervous that he would look at me and see that I changed," she said. "and fortunately for me, my husband is incredibly understanding and compassionate and really made me feel comfortable and that helped me in turn be more comfortable with my changes."

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Meegan said her treatments left her physically different from hair loss, to whole-body dryness to breast reconstruction and looking in the mirror was a surprise at times.

Her advice is to love yourself and have patience with yourself while you're going through all of those changes.

To hear more about this topic, join Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation for a free webinar Thursday, October 22. Click here for more information and to register.