***WARNING*** This post will be full of TMI. If you’ve followed me since the lymphoma days, you know I’m no stranger to sharing gory details, but this, my friends, is beyond. This… is menopause. Well, peri-menopause, to be exact.
WHAT?! Did I just say that out loud? You betcha I did! I debated for several months as to whether or not I’d write about this. After all, it’s not a pleasant concept… this aging business. But, it is real, and it’s currently my reality. And I’m going to share it with you, because there’s stuff that has gone on that I never imagined. I just didn’t know. No one talked about it. In grade school, we all (except those of us raised in a bunker like Kimmy Schmidt) learned about puberty and the changes that would happen in our body. If we were lucky, we even learned about how those changes might make us feel. But the school of hard knocks does not have a required class on this other, later stage of human development – at least, not in my district. And you know what? I kind of wish there was.
Now, I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV, in the bedroom, or anywhere else, but I’m going to let you in on my experience. It’s what I do.
We all know about the hot flashes. I had first-hand experience with them during chemo-induced menopause. Truth be told, this time around they’re not as bad. Well, at least, not yet. I also knew about the brittle nails and dry skin (again, chemo-pause). Did you know that your pubes thin? Leg and armpit hair too. One of my normally quite knowledgeable girlfriends was shocked to find out that one. Oh, and eyebrows as well. I guess it was a bonus of chemo that I learned how to fill in those sparse brows.
None of those things were as disturbing as what I’m about to tell you. When I went to the gynecologist for my last annual, she used the word “atrophy” to describe what she saw between my legs. My vagina was atrophied! What the ever-lovin’-eff? Did you know that happens? I didn’t. But ATROPHY? Nope. That was a very unpleasant surprise. And it only got worse from there.
I knew about vaginal dryness too, but I was woefully unprepared. You hear the term vaginal dryness, and sort of get it, but you don’t really know what dry is until it happens to you. It was like Masada up in there. And dry doesn’t just mean lack of lube. Yams were not going to fix this. It not only hurt to have sex (even with lube), but it hurt to pee. PEE! The dryness extended to the entire outer labial area and I was so chafed it was like having a diaper rash. When we did have sex (REALLY TMI coming up – mom, you can close your eyes for this part), it felt like I was being torn open. And no, Hubs has not had any “enhancement” procedure (nor does he need one) to trigger this excruciating sensation. Afterwards, as soon as I’d stand up, man juice would run down my legs like the mighty Mississippi as I tried to keep myself clenched all the way to the bathroom.
Ok, mom. You can open your eyes again now.
Between the atrophy and the dryness, something had to be done. So, back to the doc I went. She could tell with a quick glance that the atropy (ugh, that word!) was even worse. We discussed options, though she wasn’t sure how long it would take any treatment to work in a case “this bad.” She sent me on my way with a prescription for some vaginal estrogen cream. I’m happy to report that it didn’t take long at all for it to start putting things right again – maybe a couple of days. But, having to apply the cream every night was a bit annoying.
Enter the estrogen ring! Slightly thicker than the Nuva Ring (which I used to use before Mirena), it stays in for 90 days, and then you change it out for a new one. Now, before anyone gets too concerned about estrogen and cancer risks, I’ve run it by Alla (my oncologist) and she’s fine with it. Because Mirena releases progestins, it balances out the estrogen in the Estring. Plus, the Estring is a topical application, as opposed to oral meds. Still, I swear there are some systemic effects. My dry skin and brittle nails got better after using it a while. But most importantly, I had no more pain/atrophy/dryness! When I finally felt brave enough to take my revaginated vajayjay for a test drive, I was amazed. I sent the following message to my OBGYN:
Hi Dr. Huang –
I just wanted to give you an update. I finally screwed up the courage (see what I did there?) to take things on a test drive. I can’t believe the difference! I didn’t realize how long this situation had been creeping up on me. It felt like I my vagina was 30-something again – maybe even 20-something. I literally cried tears of joy and relief.
Her nurse intercepted the email, replied with a “BWAAHAA” and passed it on to the doc.
I could tell when the estrogen levels were dropping at the end of the 90 days and I was counting down to when I could change it out for a fresh ring. One problem. When the day came, I could not get that thing out. It’s not like I don’t know how – I’d had plenty of practice for years with the Nuva Ring. But this one is thicker, and I just couldn’t get my finger hooked on it. That night, I had to employ Hubs’ assistance. It wasn’t easy for him to get it either, but when he finally did, he stood up with it dangling around his finger and exclaimed, “I won a prize!” We both laughed ourselves to tears. That, my friends, is how to grow old together. I tell you, if you haven’t got humor, you’ve got nothing.
During the 2nd round with the Estring, it started to “wear out” after only 60 days. And by that I mean the introduction of bona fide hot flashes. Not as bad as when I had chemo (yet), but I’m sure there’s more fun to come. Also, I got hormonal headaches, breast tenderness (FYI – my annual mammogram was no more uncomfortable than usual), and the beginnings of atrophy and ouchy dryness. (Mom, close your eyes again.) Even with gobs of foreplay and my own self-made lubricant, sex was not comfortable, to say the least. Not one to give up so easily, I went shopping. I stood in the feminine product aisle for some time, comparing lubes, because not only was KY (our previous occasional go-to lube) not really cutting it, but it’s such a goopy, unsexy mess. I decided on some good ol’ AstroGlide. You know what? It worked – inside and out! Here’s hoping it will continue to do so for me (and Hubs). Because, friends, intercourse should not be painful. Amirite? (Ok, Mom, you can open your eyes again.)
I’m on my third round of the Estring now, and just saw Dr. Huang yesterday for my annual. I let her in on how sensitive I seem to be to the drop in hormone at the end of a cycle, and she found that very interesting. We contemplated checking my levels, but since my symptoms are not even close to being unbearable, and I wouldn’t do anything about it (no need to add more hormones if it’s not necessary) we decided to hold off. But, if it gets awful down the line, we’ll see where I am and maybe I’ll add a transdermal estrogen cream.