Mom, please stop reading right now. My father-in-law, I’m serious, this is not for your eyes. Anyone at all who doesn’t want to hear details about the goings on in my still functioning (barely) lady bits, this where where you exit the blog, stage left.
A couple of technical things you should know before reading on:
- I stopped getting periods during chemo, which was about a year ago. Since then, I have gotten 2 what I will call, period-adjacents. The doctors don’t think they were real periods because the blood was old and the flow inconsistent.
- Chemo can put any woman into early menopause. You won’t know its effect until much later
- Tamoxifen (the drug I am on for 10 years to stop my body from producing estrogen for cancer cells to feed on) can cause all sorts of disruptions to the menstrual process. It can also cause premature menopause or long term peri-menopause.
A few months ago I started noticing that something was not right down in Vaginatown. I am not prone to yeast infections (you guys, I told you this post was going to be rough) so I waited it out a bit to see, in a week’s hindsight, the full breadth of what we were dealing with.
The situation down low had gotten to a point where I could no longer wipe after urination. It was now a solid pat-down zone only. It felt dry, irritated and here it comes… you can close this post now… I’m serious… ITCHY. This is when I called to make an appointment with the one and only Gynecological Oncologist (Gyn-Onc) who specializes in survivorship, through my hospital system.
Within the past 6 months, I have had my first irregular pap smear in my lifetime and a pelvic ultrasound came back with some suspicious, but not yet worrisome, findings so it was definitely time to get to the bottom of this (get it?).
When I finally get to the Gyn-Onc appointment I find out that it is also what they are calling a “Survivorship Meeting”. The doctor comes into the room right at my appointment time and spends a full hour with me. Only 3 minutes of this was with me naked from the waist down in stirrups. A doctor actually looked me in the eye, asked me questions and listened to me for 57 minutes. Where has this woman been since diagnosis?! We all need this woman, ladies.
She asked me about my body and lifestyle from top to bottom. When we got to the ‘bottom’ part, she started spewing out words I wasn’t exactly ready for like, lubricant and atrophy. You heard me.
Tamoxifen takes away our estrogen. This commonly causes changes in the vagina/vulva area, most notably, dryness and itching. I was given a list of vaginal moisturizers, OY VEY.
The lack of estrogen while on Tamoxifen also affects our libidos. I had heard about this, but no one really drove it home. So buckle up.
With your female body lacking its primary female hormone, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your brain isn’t sending the message to the vagina, ‘hey! let’s find something fun to do down here!’. The messages stop. The vaginal message depot is boarded up.
Between the vaginal discomfort and the lack of libido, maintaining an ‘intimate lifestyle’ (I’m still really worried that my mom is reading this), becomes near impossible.
The Gyn-Onc asked about this extensively and told me in no uncertain terms that I have to maintain a physical intimate relationship OR MY VAGINA WOULD START TO ATROPHY. I wish I was kidding. She said in order to avoid vaginal atrophy, the vulva and vagina should be ‘utilized’ at least once a week.
Um, did you say once a week? Did my husband pay you? What is happening here? Did you not just confirm that my vagina is a wasteland that causes me great discomfort both physically and mentally?
I was given a long list of approved lubricants and told that there is a drug available for female libido boosting, but she doesn’t prescribe it because its side effects are so bad. She also said that there is another female libido boosting drug being FDA tested that looks promising, but it will be a few years at the least. Refers me back to long list of lubricants.
As I saddle up in the stirrups, she asks if I think I am in menopause. I have no idea, but I do know that my periods as I knew them, have ceased. Next comes my favorite part. When she gets her bright light directed at my under-carriage she announces in a singsongy voice. “Your vulva actually looks OK!”. FML.
Blood tests were ordered to see if I was indeed in menopause. They check your FSA and Estrodial. Within a few hours I received an email that I was not in menopause. Unclear whether I should be thrilled or bummed.
This leaves me in peri-menopausal land. Peri-menopausal land with her dry vulvas, missing libido, hot flashes and peekaboo periods could last me until I hit actual menopause. Guys, we are talking 15+ years possibly. Get me off this traaaaaiiiiiinnnnnn!
But I can’t get off. This is the card I was dealt. When they remove your breasts, they secretly take a whole bunch away from your southern hemisphere, too.
So here I am, a 37 year old woman with an 8 page printout of vaginal moisturizers, tips for hot flashes and multiples references to sex therapists. Humph (rests chin in hands with defeated puppy dog look on face).
I guess we owe it to ourselves to make the suggested changes and find ways to keep living the life we want. It ain’t easy, but the other option is to close Vaginatown permanently which, according to the Gyn-Onc, is a major no-no unless you desire the physical anatomy of a Barbie doll.
And dear readers, please do not send this link to anyone I am related to either by blood or marriage. And for the love of God, no one tell my husband about this post. Do not speak of this blog post to your friends on any kind of phone line that Putin could hack into and use against us. Let’s just let it live here, where it can hopefully help my fellow survivors.