Two women with two different breast cancer stories, both wanting more normalcy after their treatment has “ended.” This blog is about their open and honest experiences with their sexual health after going through breast cancer treatment, surgery, and the aftermath that cancer leaves behind. Lisa Frost and Ann Marie Otis became fabulous friends through Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer and work together to advocate for a change in the breast cancer community. This is both of their stories:.
Lisa tells her side…
There are some things that you expect to happen when you are going through breast cancer treatment. For instance, when you are receiving chemotherapy you know that you will lose your hair. It is devastating, but temporary and expected. When you have a mastectomy you know there will be pain and scarring. When you go through radiation you know that there is the potential for skin burns. When I had my ovaries removed, I knew that I would go into menopause. Unfortunately, there are side effects from breast cancer that I wasn’t aware of or expecting. I knew that menopause meant no more periods and that I could no longer get pregnant. I was completely fine with that. I also knew that there was the possibility of mood changes and hot flashes. I most definitely experienced the hot flashes that were incredibly annoying, but I knew that those would be temporary as well. The one side effect that I was not expecting and that has been so disappointing is the change in my ability to be intimate with my husband.
Menopause on its own can cause significant changes in gynecological health. The lack of estrogen to the vaginal walls creates something technically called atrophy. In layman’s terms, this means thinning and shortening of the walls and the vaginal canal. There is decreased blood flow and lubrication. If you add having your ovaries removed as well as adding an aromatase inhibitor (prevents even further estrogen production), then your symptoms can be even more overwhelming. Symptoms vary from person to person, but what this generally means for women is painful intercourse. In some cases, it is agonizing. There is true, life-altering pain--there is burning and soreness. I am in the medical field so looking at this situation from a healthcare perspective, I can list all the facts; but as a woman, wife, and breast cancer survivor I can tell you from my own personal experience that the inability to get intimate with my husband of so many years was the most heartbreaking.
I realize that as a breast cancer survivor I am privileged to be alive, but I honestly was never prepared that not being able to be intimate with my husband would be the longest lasting problem that I had to face after cancer. There does come a point when after cancer you try to start living your life as normally as possible, and painful intercourse was not something that I was expecting to have to deal with. This is also a problem that a lot of women do not want to talk about. It is embarrassing and extremely personal, but it is also very common. As a woman with estrogen positive cancer, hormone replacements are not an option for me, not even vaginal hormones. Loss of lubrication seems like it would be easy to deal with, right? Well it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have talked with my gynecologist, and she suggested coconut oil. I have tried many different lubricating gels/liquids/solids that are on the market and while they do help somewhat they don’t help as much as I would like them to. I continue to experience pain, burning, and yes, even bleeding after intercourse.
My husband and I have been through so much together. We are actually one of those fortunate couples where cancer brought us closer together. It breaks my heart that he is hesitant to come near me because he knows how painful it is for me. It is difficult to hide the look of discomfort on one’s face during intimate moments. What husband wants to see his wife in pain when it is supposed to be something that brings you both pleasure? This past year, at my yearly gynecologist check-up, my doctor mentioned something new that has been shown to significantly improve vaginal health. She told me about the new laser treatment technology called the MonaLisa Touch. It is a series of three treatments that has been shown to renew the vaginal tissue and has been very successful in improving the sex lives of many breast cancer survivors out there. I was so excited that there might actually be something out there that can help me. Only a year ago I was convinced that there wasn’t anything that could help make intercourse less painful for me, but now I have hope.
Can I add my two cents? (This is AnnMarie, BTW)
I remember when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I made this comment, “I can not wait until I can just be done with this.” What an actual joke that was! I was not at all prepared for the side effects that my body was left with. I will skip right to the part that left my husband and I in an intimate hell. I, like many with breast cancer, had a full hysterectomy because of cysts and things that were growing. Almost right after the surgery the nurse asked me if I was experiencing hot flashes or any symptoms, and I was like, “Huh?” Could it happen that fast? The truth is YES! You are what I like to call violently shoved into menopause. That being said, you miss the gradual ease into menopause. That is the luxury that non-cancer women get. This full throttle is really no joke. I was still coping with my external body changes, and now had to deal with the hormonal as well.
Intercourse. Wow! The first time was truthfully sheet grabbing painful. I had tears streaming down my face. I know that there are many other things to keep the love alive, I get it, however, this is happening to young women and older ones that are still active! Let’s face it, does it matter your age if you want to be close to your lover as you should be? I hate that this is just another thing we end up feeling like cancer took from us, we want it back. In saying that, I am scared of another procedure. I am sick of having them. The anxiety of all the tests, the stress, the worry. I know that others feel this way too. The anguish of yet another invasive treatment done to them without really knowing what it is. With that said, MonaLisa Touch sounds way too good not to explore more, especially considering that the company has 15 published studies to verify that it actually works, not to mention numerous ongoing studies.
Here is the thing though, before we connected with the brand and our doctors, we really hadn’t heard anything about the treatment, which makes me wonder, “Have you heard about it before?” Is anyone talking about this? Better yet, has anyone reading this already tried MonaLisa Touch? I want to talk to as many people as I can about this procedure so I can hear how it helped them. I am going to look into this treatment for me. Let’s all work to get our sexy back in 2017!
This blog is sponsored by Mona Lisa Touch and we are thrilled to bring it to you.