008: Mastectomies, Intimacy, Sex and a View from His Perspective

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

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Episode Summary:

It’s not taboo if it is a part of everyday life. On today’s show Griff again, joins the podcast to discuss the far-reaching impact of mastectomy surgery in terms of sex, arousal, intimacy, and romantic stability. Please join Griff and Tammey for a candid and insightful conversation about the struggles and triumphs of a post-cancer marriage.

Topics in this Episode:

  • Intro

  • An outside perspective

  • Opening shock

  • Mission Oriented

  • An Attentive Partner

  • Try not to take it personally

  • Is arousal abandoned?

  • We may not have much time

  • Adapting to the unforeseen

  • Mastectomies are NOT a “Boob Job”

  • A Difficult question

  • Is it Vanity?

  • Those who dare; Win

  • Sign off

Contact Information and Social Links:


A special thank you to our sponsor, Riverdance Soapworks. Handcrafted products we personally use. Visit www.riverdancesoapworks.com and let them know you heard about them from Tammey.



Tammey Grable-Woodford: Hello, and welcome to this week's episode of Your Killer Life. And I am joined by my better half as we dive into the next installment of mastectomies. And we are going to be talking about mastectomies from the guy's perspective.

Now, those of you that have been listening know that I was separated from my husband, not this one.

When I first was diagnosed with cancer, my exhusband had asked for a divorce a few weeks beforehand. And so I was sort of starting this journey, gosh, I guess newly, single after 20 years. And you and I have been friends,

Right, but we hadn't necessarily escalated things. I admitted last week that the mastectomies really felt like an annihilation of my sexuality.

But I will also say there was this added element to that where newly dating, which was sort of unexpected...

Griff Woodford: Right, agreed.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And also not being willing to, or wanting to, have commitment with anyone because I was diagnosed with cancer and, and, and that just didn't feel fair to me to have a relationship with someone being in this weird mental space of denial.

And kind of wanting to combat the reality of everything that was happening with still trying to find some element of normalcy, some element of, of still, I dunno, hanging onto my sexuality of still being able to find intimacy, still, still being human and having a biological need for all of those feel good hormones that, that come along with that.

Griff Woodford: Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And so it was a, it was an odd time for me. And so I wanted to kind of give it a little bit of that backstory to our listeners, because one of the questions I see come up a lot and relationship issues come up a lot in various breast cancer groups, because it is such a hard thing. I mean, it's hard to want to get your sexy on when you don't feel sexy...

Griff Woodford: Yeah, sure...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...and your confidence being absolutely annihilated.

An outside perspective

But then there's also the question of. What does it look like? And what does it like from the guy's side? And I guess you can also tell I'm a little nervous, cause I just totally just dove right into this one without much of an intro, but this is a very vulnerable space. And quite frankly, you know, we are not scripted.

And I think that that's important for people to know. So this is a very frank conversation and opening ourselves up to being very vulnerable and, and willing to hear things that, that may actually be uncomfortable or, or even unintentionally hurtful and... I say that too, because it was years before you admitted to me sort of some of the fears and thoughts that you had as we went through this.

So... I guess... are you ready to be...

Griff Woodford: Yup. Yup. Yup. That's why I'm here. Go, go for it.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Just dive in? Okay. So I know for me, and I know you, you listened to last week's episode, which was very hard for me and I, I almost cried a few times last week in last week's episode, just talking about what that felt like and where I was mentally. So for me, I struggled a lot with how that looked post-mastectomy and I struggled with the apparent violence of the appearance of it.

Griff Woodford: And so guys being very aesthetically stimulated,

Opening shock

Tammey Grable-Woodford: What was that like for you when you saw that?

Griff Woodford: Well speaking just for myself. Cause I know I'm not the only person that's been in that circumstance and that scenario, I don't want to put words in anyones mouth or put out a false sense of ideals that this is what everyone feels like, because I'm pretty sure it's not.

Gosh, where would I start with that. Um, so in, in the very beginning, I remember taking the bandages off for the first time, the, um...

It was painful. It was physically painful to see that. I mean, it just seemed like carnage. I mean, very well executed carnage, and I remember specifically commenting on that, you know, how excellent the lines were and how just exemplary really exemplary of a job they did in the process. But the... I mean the physical discomfort I felt from looking at that and then knowing with certainty, how much pain you were in...

That was the part that for me, was initially the most shocking and that carried through for quite a while, you know, and it kind of breaks down to a few different parts for me personally, when you've talked about intimacy and you talked about sexuality, and then you just talk about where the, um, where the difficulties were.

Mission oriented

Uh, I don't really think in terms of the mastectomy for me, there were necessarily difficulties. There was tasking. The initial tasking is make sure that you are as comfortable as you possibly can be, so you can heal properly. And to me, when I first saw that I didn't see an end state. I saw the beginning of a long process.

So there was, I don't think that hope is the right word, because I didn't have a clear picture in my mind what that supposed to look like, but encouragement that we had a very good place to start in so far as what reconstruction can look like and what, you know, X time down the road, you know, what are additional surgeons and plastic surgeons, what are they going to have to work with? And, you know, so in that sense, it was, it was encouraging,

You know, going a little bit further in the timeline. The question of intimacy came up. I know that you have, I mean, not just on air, but we... we talk about that all the time. You know, what, what, and, and understand that a distinct, a distinct for both of us.

And I would, I would venture to say, just for people in general, there is a distinct difference between intimacy and sexuality. Often the two are, are very closely linked together but they're not mutually exclusive. So for me, the intimacy capacity was never difficult cause you were wounded. And I personally, I'm a protector.

You know, that, that is, that is what my role is. Especially with you. It's for me, it's been present through most serious relationships I had, but you know, that's the funny thing too, because we were at a point just chronologically that, you know, there was very little real backstory to us as a couple or as a unit.

So really immersing in that role immediately and wholeheartedly, and honestly, I wouldn't even really be able to tell you why I was doing it. Like what the end state was. It just, I knew that that was my purpose now. And however long it lasted.

So the intimacy in that of having you to... to require intimacy. And figuring out ways that I can show that to you, show you this and give you what exactly that you need without potentially hurting you.

Because, you know, that was quite a little while where we were concerned about that in terms of sexuality, you know, we know we're not going to bust the stitches type thing.

So I would say developing different ways of being intimate, but leading with intimacy in mind. And then, you know, if we're able to move that into sexuality, then that's great, but you know, I mean, I know for me personally, often taking the lead, you know, where you were at, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, as you mentioned in your last podcast, you just talked about. It seemed like... I'm not finding the correct word for this... I want to say coaxing, but that's not it, but I think just reassuring that you can do this and it's okay to do this, that I'm not focused on the injury.

I'm focused on you.

An Attentive partner

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Which was very hard because there was more than once. And all of a sudden I'm very self conscious by the way. Cause I know our mother's listen to the podcast, but we're humans, they're adults. So, but there was more than once where I just... I would just stop... because it was traumatizing for me to see.

Griff Woodford: Yep

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And it, it felt unattractive. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. I did not feel sexy at all. And it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. But I think this is an important part of conversation because I think it can be seen as failure from a guy side that I'm not feeling sexy. I'm not feeling attractive. And it cannot be fun from your side.

And again, I don't wanna put words in people's mouth, either everyone's experience is different and, and, you know, not, we all do not have the same experiences and especially in this area, but I, I will be Frank and vulnerable in saying that, you know, I just, I couldn't go on. It was too painful for me. And I don't mean physical pain.

I mean, mental pain... that I looked so damaged.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, I remember it at least three distinct like meltdown meltdowns, where like, this was, this took hours to just get you back into a good, a good head space, you know, let alone back in the mood (both laughing) or what have you, but...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: If we even did. Because you were really good about that too. Like sometimes you just abandon that, like that. That's not, we're not going to finish that... thing...

Griff Woodford: Yeah, I don't know, again for me, and I'm not gonna put words in anyone's mouth, either for me personally, when something like that did happen and I have three very distinct memories of that, that there's kind of that instinctual reaction to think that well, "Shit, what did I do?" type thing, but also understanding and knowing you enough, not just where you were.

In general, as far as like emotional placement and psychological placement, but understanding your, your cues, your physical cues, your vocal cues, that something is either in the process of not going well or is about to go unwell, you know, being able to see or feel you tense up like your body or your shoulders or what have you.

So it wasn't always necessarily a surprise, but for me anyway, being observant enough to understand that this is probably not for me, but if you remember I always did ask, is it something that I did, but you know, not in that tone, but, but um understanding that it was, it was far beyond just my own role. It wasn't about me in the sense that this is, this is not my time to be offended or to be, to be hurt by your actions by, or my assumptions of your actions. It was clearly that you were in crisis and that's now my job.

Try not to take it personally

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So that was one of the things I wanted to ask you, is whether or not it was hard not to take it personally when, when that started to happen, because in some ways, and this is my we've not talked about this element of it. This is an assumption of mine that you're kind of doing normal you, and there's a normal activity and the intimacy and all of that is, is happening.

And then to have the brakes put on and to have somebody who's, you know, in some cases I was an emotional mess and some cases, I was just like this, I just, I just, I can't, I can't, I can't look at this. I can't deal with this. I can't. And it was hard not to take that as personally.

Griff Woodford: As far as the intimacy goes or the sexuality of the sex... the actual sex goes, no, actually it wasn't because I know normal you. Y'know, what was difficult for me to take personally, and that actually caused a couple of fights is when we are not doing something like that, we are doing it typically mundane thing and a meltdown occurs.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.

Griff Woodford: That's hard for me to not take personally. And, and then as far as, you know, the, just the personal fronts, everyone suffers in any relationship, you know, I mean that. I noticed that during that process and for three years, you know, for us, it was, it was particularly important to me to move as light footed as I could around the typical tasks.

Because I understood and was able to see daily how horrible of a time you were having of it sometimes. So what I, what I did take personally is when I felt like I was giving you everything that I knew how to do and more on, you know, learning on the fly, like both were and feeling like it wasn't appreciated, which I know it's not ever been the case, but again, in those moments, when we're both freaking smoked, you know,

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right... right...

Griff Woodford: After 12 hours in Seattle or I've been up for 19 hours, making sure that your drains are, are properly well drained and all the things go along with that rebandaging and you'd snap at me about like a coaster or something like that.

I think that actually happened, but something along those lines...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: it could have... (both laughing)

Griff Woodford: It might've happened you have a thing with coasters. But so that's stuff that was hard for me not to take personally, but again, testament to the quality of our relationship is being able to say, excuse you. And, and that goes certainly both ways,

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Both ways.. (both laughing)

Griff Woodford: And, you know, that usually something like that, that like not confrontation, but that just holding accountable, like, "Oh, right. I'm sorry. That was an asshole thing to do. I'm sorry." And then we proceed on, of course that's only worked that way. That's one of the things that I actually pride us on heavily is putting in the work that it, that allows us to be like that.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. Yeah.

Griff Woodford: You know , but as far as the, the, the sex and intimacy thing, I think intimacy is sometimes a little bit more, you know, during the meltdowns the, I oh... my well, yeah, during, just the meltdowns.

When you know you, and I can think a couple of examples when like refusing to be touched, refusing to be consoled, that type of thing. That is, that's a lot more difficult for me to, to not take personally, but again, understanding I know the normal, you, I know how you feel towards me. I know your thoughts and emotions and, you know, admiration and respect and all the things that are critical in a relationship.

I know those are there. So let's explore why this is your course of action, as opposed to me just being asshurt about it and storming out, you know?

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.

Griff Woodford: So that, I hope that answered your question.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Answers that and probably raises, raises a couple more.

Is arousal abandoned?

So let's talk, let's be blunt about arousal. Did the mastectomy sites, which, you know, going from what you would normally be used to seeing, which is breast to seeing tissue in a concave chest and 10 inch scars on either side. Did that impact your arousal at all?

Griff Woodford: At first, no, and I think that's going to sound kind of strange, but at first it was just that you're you were still alive. So it was... so it was kind of celebratory, in a sense and because we didn't know if that was the case all the time. So it was kind of like, at least for me, and well for you too. I mean, we had those conversations and of course those actions that, you know, it's not really about that.

It's about each other. It's about you and I doing things that we wanna do together and, and feeling each other, feeling happy and connected and just feeling good after not good days. You know? So I would say typically, if it weren't you, if it weren't someone that I'm dedicated to, and that I am, that I require as a human, I would say that would be nearly impossible.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: That it would impact...

Griff Woodford: Oh, yes, certainly, certainly. And you know, to anyone out there, if on either side, you know, uh, either spouse feeling the impact of that, it's, you're not alone. That's what I mean. I would only think that is the standard, you know, and it was actually kinda because of that, that I, I have felt very fortunate that we weren't really negatively impacted by that because sex is important. I mean, it's not the same as intimacy, but it is very, very important. Even just physiologically, you know, there's, there's chemicals and hormones that occur in that act that you can't get in the same dose really anywhere else. You know, and I think certainly during that time, you know, we were really fortunate in that.

I think because there was this, I mean, I never saw it this way necessarily, but I understood the context of this decision. It's a potentially a short term gig.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right

Griff Woodford: I think that kind of emboldened us in some cases and you know, made it more of an imperative, you know?

Tammey Grable-Woodford: I I've actually often wondered about that. And you and I sort of had this weird honeymoon phase because we were newly dating

Griff Woodford: Yeah. Yeah. We had a bunch of stuff going on with that one.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: We sort of had this, um, this, we were friends. And then for whatever reason you decided, like you said that you were going to step in and be that person.

Griff Woodford: MMhmm

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And I, I tried to push that away and you weren't having it.

Griff Woodford: Nah

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. And I'm very thankful for that.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, me too.

We may not have much time. . .

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And I do think that for both of us, there was this element of, we didn't know how long this would be or even I would be. And so that did kind of adjust it.

Griff Woodford: I know that you certainly felt that more than I did. Like, I always had at least a little more confidence that there was going to be an end state to this. There was going to be a time when this was over, but at the same time, you know how you enforce that you don't. And when we, of course, we talked about that before, quite a bit, you know, like don't diminish what this person is feeling, they are the one going through it, you know, be as confident and as optimistic as you want and in my case, but don't just say, "Oh, don't worry. Everything's fine."

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right! "It'll be okay." Don't tell me, you don't know. You do not know.

Uh, yeah, that was such a, such a weird space. So, I know for me, one of the other impacts was just not having any sensation. So, you know, again, there's, there's no breast, but then also being numb in that area and, and really feeling like I had lost, you know, 50% of my erogenous zones.

Right. Like that was just gone. And that was, and it wasn't that there was no feeling, it was this weird tingling, numb, like your foot falling asleep because it's all scarred and it wasn't mentally prepared for that.

Griff Woodford: Right.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And so that was also a bit of an impact, at least on my side, you know, the visual of it was very difficult.

The sensation...

Adapting to the Unforeseen

Griff Woodford: Yeah, that was something I didn't expect either, as you and at least a couple of our listeners know, you know, I spent some time in medical field and have certainly had my share of interaction with cancer patients. And that was, I, you know, I'd never thought of that. I'd never heard anyone bring it up. It's really not something to talked about.

Like what are the seemingly innocuous details that make a really big impact?

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.

Griff Woodford: You know? And that was certainly one for me. Like, I, again, I just never considered that before being with you before going into your surgeries and then how each additional surgery impacted it differently, you know, that was... and that's another thing too... you know, with the mastectomies, that's not just the one surgery.

I mean, you certainly have the option of just removing everything and then leaving it like that. But, you know, we obviously didn't go that route...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right...

Griff Woodford: Which I'm personally thankful for, for a lot of reasons, not just aesthetic reasons, but you know, each, each time the expanders went in or went out each expansion, you know, the, the different implants, all that, you know, the, all of it impacts of differently.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, I know we haven't even started to talk about reconstruction yet. And that, that was quite the journey because, you know, I consider the biopsies to be my first surgical procedure because with a stereotactic biopsy, I think it was 1.4 centimeters of tissue that they took from one of the masses.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, they took a big plug out of you.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. And that was, that was significant. And then the, of course, the mastectomies and then having the expanders placed since I had mastectomies 03/15, I had expanders placed in June '15. I had my first exchange in December of '15. And then we had the do that over in April of '16 and then nipple reconstruction in September of '16.

And then just last April having the...

Griff Woodford: Yeah. The final set.

Mastectomies are NOT a “boob job”!

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Final for now, a lot of people don't realize this either, right? Like I mentioned that this is not a boob job. It is in NO WAY a boob job.

Griff Woodford: It is not.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: I have had well-meaning friends try and empathize with me about, yeah, I've had augmentation or I've had reduction and this is, this is nothing, nothing like that. The...

Griff Woodford: Yeah, so I will give a, a brief clinic for anyone out there who wants to comment on something like that. So you have breast augmentation or your wife has a breast augmentation. You do not get the comment if you have not had mastectomies on what you should or should not be feeling after you have mastectomies, that's just how that goes.

And there is nothing "fortunate" about having mastectomies.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: No.

And when we do talk about reconstruction, we will, we'll go into that a little more because a lot of people, I think those who haven't been there or live with a person going through it, think that you end up with the television hamburger commercial, gonna sell a car type results.

Griff Woodford: You know, you can, and you can, uh, that's going to take years and you're going to pay for every milliliter that is in those implants. And pay dearly.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh my gosh... and then some

So, and this is going to be a really, I think hard question because we are so different. Every relationship is so different. Everyone is different in the different spaces that they're in. Some people are... unfortunately, there's a lot of divorce, so my situation is not rare and you and I were friends.

And so we sort of had this weird leg up and there was an emotional bond before, you know, this happened just by virtue of friendship. So, but when it comes to... my gosh, meeting new people and having those conversations and, and getting your confidence back, do you have any recommendations from the guy's side?

A difficult question

You know, if, if we hadn't known each other and you and I had just met and I said, would you want to know first date, third date, if uh.... if I had had mastectomies and was wearing knitted knockers at the time, or? That is a super hard question...

Griff Woodford: I'm not really sure how to answer that one. Me, because I... I'm very much information driven in my decisions, but at the same time, when it comes to relationships, it's very different...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.

Griff Woodford: I wanna know the person. Like who I'm actually putting through a selection process to spend my life with... You know, that's a, to me it's always been when considering a serious relationship, but it's been a lot more important who that person actually is as opposed to what they, what their cup sizes or something like that.

Because I know that that is going to change regardless of health. At some point, you're not going to look like you looked when, when we met. So that seems like a pretty irrelevant, I mean, it's not a irrelevant, I shouldn't say it's irrelevant, but it seems like it's quite a bit further back on the tier of importance when selecting a longterm person, then I think is placed on it with a lot of other people.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So, what I actually really love and appreciate about this. And like I said, at the beginning, we are not scripted. And so I totally just asked him a completely unfair question, (both laughing) but...

Griff Woodford: I'm used to those those It's fine. Don't worry.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: But, what I love about it is it does remind me. So I ended the last podcast talking about a friend of mine who asked me a really important question and I didn't name that friend.

And that question was, and it does tie into what you just said. And that question was, as I was struggling with, do I want reconstruction or not? And I was dismissing it's they're just boobs. It doesn't matter. I don't have kids. I'm not going to have kids. I'm not going to use them for anything. I'm just, it's just vanity.

Is it Vanity?

And the question that you asked me was

Griff Woodford: Are you confusing identity or vanity with identity, right.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And so the answer that you just gave, what I'm hearing you say is that because I, and it is hard not to get all tied up in this, when it is so much of your person that, you know, you are losing in part of that identity. And I think in some ways you sort of just want to rush out, get it over with and say, this is, this is my trauma.

This is what's been going on. This is what I've been going through. And what I'm hearing you say is give your person your personality, your, your essence, a chance in a relationship, that that's not the thing that is at the forefront. You, or the person not to the piece of you that is the priority, especially in the beginning.

Griff Woodford: Correct. Right. And I mean, that's, I will put words in people's mouth is that is how a successful relationship begins when successful in every term, not just longevity. I don't see that as success. I see the, the transcendence that comes with longevity, the devotion and sense of duty and continued and strengthened love throughout that process.

That is success.