Tracey Gorman at North Bondi Beach.
BREAST cancer survivor Tracey Gorman couldn't remove her bra during sex for four years after her mastectomy.
She had lost all confidence in her body and sexuality - so much so she refused to undress in front of her then husband and wore her prosthesis to bed every night.
"It became part of me,"' the 51-year-old said. "It was horrible and heavy but I never took my bra off because it was my security.
"I didn't want anyone to see me like that (naked) when I couldn't stand to see myself."
Cancer free for 15 years now, it has taken her most of that time to come to terms with the changes to her body after her treatment for breast cancer.
Ms Gorman was a sporty, mother-of-four sons under eight when she was diagnosed at age 36.
The loss of her breast and mane of red hair robbed her sense of identity, leaving her feeling "less than a whole woman.
"I don't know what was worse losing my hair or the boob," she said.
"My hair was my thing so that was really hard and after I lost my breast I always felt uneven like I wasn't balanced."
Despite the loving support of her then husband, Grahame, Ms Gorman said her husband's constant reassurances weren't enough to ease her anxieties.
"He was an amazingly supportive husband and it never changed his view of me sexually but it changed me - it was all me,"' she said.
"He would tell me I was beautiful but I didn't feel whole anymore and I wasn't comfortable in my body anymore.
"We had been together 15 years and were extremely comfortable with each other and had great sex life but after the cancer, I wouldn't show my body and started to cover up and that did put a strain on things."
Ms Gorman said her breast reconstruction at age 40 helped boost her confidence.
Four years ago she left her husband of 25 years, though she hastens to add it had nothing to do with her illness.
Ms Gorman's experience of struggling with body image and sexuality after cancer is now being recognised by experts as a growing and significant issue for survivors.
International research shows more than 40 per cent of people experience sexual problems after cancer treatment - with almost 70 per cent of patients and their partners admitting they need help to cope with the changes to their bodies, dealing with image issues and intimacy.
NSW Cancer Council's Annie Miller, who heads the Survivorship Unit, said the focus on sexual issues has grown as more and more younger people continue to be diagnosed with cancer - and survival rates improve.
"It's people in that 18-45 age bracket that are coming to us and saying we want to talk more about sexuality and fertility because no-one's talking about sex, so what are we supposed to do about this,'' she said.
In an Australian first, the Cancer Council and Sydney University researchers have been granted funding to develop and launch a web-based psycho-educational resource.
Ms Miller said the Rekindle project, which starts mid next year, will address sexual concerns and needs of survivors and their partners, across all cancer-types but tailored to the unique concerns of each user.
"The wonderful thing is we are going to be able to get to people in rural and regional areas who are really desperate for this because not many people would feel comfortable going to their GP to discuss sexual function," she said.
Relationship counsellor and sexologist, Dr Nikki Goldstein said sex was an important aspect for quality of life - a topic reluctantly broached and sometimes overlooked by people just grateful to be in remission.
"The way we feel about our body really plays a part in what happens in the bedroom and that's an issue that isnt really spoken about," she said.
"It's not just about getting this banging, hot Fifty Shades of Grey sex life back - it's about valuing yourself as a sexual being; being able to feel sexual again and being able to connect with someone.
Written by DANIELA ONGARO
- The Sunday Telegraph
- October 12, 2013 10:00PM