Chemo, Menopause and Sex
Right before I started chemo, I asked my oncologist about having sex. Like most couples of our age, my husband and I have had our ups and down sexually. But for the most part, we are up.
One of my concerns about the cancer treatment was how it would affect our sex life. But first I just wanted to make sure that it was ok to still have sex.
The conversation with my PA went like this: “Can I still drink bourbon from time to time?”
Fred was in the room. And I knew he wanted to know the answer to this next question too.
“And, um, what about having sex?”
“Yes. But wear a condom because chemo makes your body fluids toxic.”
I promptly went out and bought a box of condoms and some new lube. I thought I was so cool. Yes, we would not let a little thing like breast cancer and toxic chemotherapy drugs get in the way of hot 50 year-old sex. I used to write about Love and Sex. I reviewed sex toys. I had this.
We did manage to have sex once while I was going through chemo. It was in the very beginning, after only one chemo infusion. And it made me bleed. Which freaked me out so I called the oncologist’s office. No, they said, the bleeding was not cancer related. I had breast cancer not cervical or uterine. It was my period. Which turned out to be the last period I would ever get. If I had known, I would have been a little more ceremonious about it.
Seven months after my last period, my husband and I took a cruise to celebrate his birthday. It was our first trip since I had been diagnosed. I was post chemo, post lumpectomy and halfway done with my radiation. Going on a cruise has always been easy for us since we live in South Florida. It’s an inexpensive way to totally get away for a few days.
And I love cruising.
Nobody has to drive. The cell phone service is so expensive that we just turn our phones off and put them in the cabin safe. And, most importantly, the sex is always good and plentiful. I’m not sure if it’s the motion of the ocean or the tiny cabins. But we are definitely close when we are on the boat.
I packed that tube of lube I bought seven months prior. No chemo, so no toxic fluids. No need for condoms. I was feeling pretty good. Healing and a little feisty. So I expected that this time wouldn’t be any different. Except that it was.
Everything was fine until we actually began to have sex. The pain was so bad that tears puddled in my eyes. I thought it was the lube. It was a generic brand and I thought maybe my skin was sensitive because of the chemo. I couldn’t go on so I told my husband and we celebrated his birthday in another way.
When I got back to town, I bought three different organic, hypo-allergenic lubes. I tried them out on myself with my favorite vibrator. Nope not the lube. Just me. F@%k. I hadn’t even thought that this would be a problem. But it made sense. I was in full blown menopause. My vagina had dried up. At my gynecologist appointment soon after, I was told the tissue in my vaginal wall was gray when it used to be pink.
I am lucky. I have a great gynecologist. And support team. We can talk about this kind of thing. And we did. I started using Vagifem suppositories. Low estrogen tablets that you insert in your vagina a few times a week. I checked with my oncologist. My breast cancer was not hormone related. So it was fine.
And after six weeks, I could feel a difference. Sex was not great but it was bearable. I wanted better than that. We were going to be empty nesters and I had images of being chased around the house naked. (Hope that doesn’t scare you.) There was another treatment, consisting of lasertherapy to your vaginal walls and vulva, to cause the tissue to rejuvenate. The Mona Lisa Touch. Insurance wouldn’t cover it, which doesn’t seem right. And it was expensive. But I wanted my sex life back. And my husband did too.
So I scheduled an appointment with a urogynecologist.