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Making time for intimacy after a brain tumour diagnosis

It’s easy for intimacy to take a back seat when you’re dealing with the physical, emotional and practical effects of a brain tumour diagnosis,

Fatigue, money worries, anxiety and depression can affect both partners equally. These can make it hard to prioritise the everyday intimate moments you normally share with your partner - from talking through your private thoughts or having a cuddle to just asking “How was your day?”

I can’t recommend the Relationship Support Service highly enough to help navigate the tricky ways in which a brain tumour diagnosis can impact on a relationship.

Read Ed's story

Ed from Kent was diagnosed with a Grade 4 glioblastoma in June 2018 after he collapsed at work. He and his wife have recently been using the relationship service the Charity offers in partnership with Relate to help support him as a husband and father.

My wife and I had been together for 10 years when I was diagnosed. Until then, our relationship had been so carefree. From day one, we knew that we had a long-term future together and we had a good grasp of what we both wanted that to look like too. However, my diagnosis threw all that into question overnight. We did still get married just nine months later and we soon welcomed our first child after going through IVF.

The diagnosis really changed how I viewed myself and how I felt that other people saw me too. All of a sudden, I needed help and support to complete what should be really simple tasks. I thought that I had become a burden – someone who needed caring for – and it really knocked my confidence. This resulted in a total lack of interest in the physical side of a relationship.

The relationship service with Relate was so empathetic. I quickly built a rapport with a professional ear which gave me the confidence to discuss in detail the emotional and practical barriers which were creating the issues in my relationship. We talked openly and real effort was made to understand my situation, offer practical solutions and also understand that sometimes maybe I didn’t want to talk.

If someone is looking for practical or emotional relationship advice, I can’t recommend it highly enough to help navigate the tricky ways in which a brain tumour diagnosis can impact on a relationship.

Intimacy doesn’t have to mean sex, but the effects of a brain tumour can make it harder to feel romantic. Physical and cognitive difficulties can all play their part, but there may be issues around body image too.

Bloating and weight gain are both common side-effects of treatments for brain tumours. It’s normal to feel self-conscious about the scars from neurosurgery or hair loss after chemotherapy.

It can be difficult to talk about sex and intimacy at the best of times, but communication can also be made harder by the effects of a brain tumour.

I felt better after having those conversations because my own guilt, about not being in the mood for sex, didn't hang over me every day.

Read Beth's story

You don’t need to go through this alone though. Relate offer a wide range of content to help people experiencing relationship difficulties and we’ve teamed up with them to provide our Relationship Support Service for couples and individuals whose relationship has been affected by a brain tumour.

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We know that, sadly, some people in our community have seen changes in their loved ones that have led to them being violent or aggressive, although this is rare. 

These changes can seem even more worrying in the current situation, but it’s important to remember that if this is something you’re experiencing, your safety is paramount and the current social distancing (or isolation) rules don’t apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic violence.

If you feel you’re at risk of abuse, remember there’s help and support available, including police response, online support, helplines, refuges and other services.

You are not alone!

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This content and our relationship counselling service have been created in partnership with Relate, the leading relationships charity in England and Wales. If you found this information useful, you might also find the following resources by Relate interesting:

This content and our Relationship Support Service has been created in partnership with Relate - the leading relationships charity in England and Wales.

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If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.