May 10, 2017
“Nobody knows how things will turn out, that's why they go ahead and play the game...You give it your all and sometimes amazing things happen, but it's hardly ever what you expect.” Gennifer Gholdenko, Al Capone Does My Shirts
After taking off last summer from blogging, I wasn’t planning on taking another break. My last blog left off in November, when I joined the staff of As You Like It; The Pleasure Shop. I have so much to report on this new adventure! But before I do, I want to talk about my unexpected detour. I’ve written a longer blog on the subject that you’re welcome to read: https://jane-steckbeck.squarespace.com/blog/2017/4/24/an-unexpected-detour
In early December, I learned that I had breast cancer. For many reasons, I was stunned. I believed my dedication to healthy eating and fitness protected me. In fact, so confident was I in my lifestyle, I had told myself many times over how grateful I was that I’d never have to walk “that path,” meaning the path of a breast cancer thriver. I couldn’t have imagined that the very tool I had chosen to ensure healthy aging and vital sexuality—bioidentical hormones—would become such a threat. Alas, my tumor was receptive for both progesterone and estrogen. Having written extensively in this blog about the benefits of bioidentical hormones, I want to revisit the subject.
If you’ve been reading my past blogs, you’ll know that I began to enjoy sex only around age 48-50 after healing from the effects of sex abuse. As menopause approached, I sought solutions to buffer the harsher side effects of menopause, including lowered libido, painful intercourse, dry, fragile vaginal tissues, mood swings, and brain fog, not to mention punishing night sweats and hot flashes. Having just begun to enjoy empowerment in my sexual expression, I wasn’t ready to give it up so soon!
And for the brief time I was taking bioidentical estrogen and testosterone (all of 7 months) (I had been taking progesterone for about five years), I felt fantastic! My menopause symptoms completely abated and I felt sexually alive and magnetic. I was so grateful for bioidential hormones and felt confident taking them. After all, everything I had read suggested that it was pharmaceutical pseudo hormones that caused breast cancer, not the safe and natural bioidentical hormones. Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned that my optimism and that of proponents of bioidentical hormones may have been misplaced. I also realize that I probably would have taken the risk regardless because the benefits were so positive for me.
Even after my diagnosis, I am not opposed to bioidentical hormones. For those women with harsh menopause symptoms who have not had breast or other hormone-based cancers, I believe they are a godsend. I just wish there was something as effective available to women to at least help alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
One more side comment: I have a major issue with the false promise of mammography. I had had a normal mammogram just five months before I noticed the dent in my breast when I lifted my arm to apply deodorant. The technician commented that the diagnostic mammogram taken the same day the ultrasound detected the tiny tumor would also have passed as “normal.” How is that “early detection?” How large would the tumor have to be before the esteemed digital mammogram would have found it? My take away? I’ve had my last mammogram and will use thermography with ultrasound for future check-ups. I’ll also continue looking at my breasts regularly and doing regular self-exams.
So here I am experiencing the hard-core menopause symptoms I had hoped to avoid. Fortunately, my tumor was tiny and non-aggressive so after surgery, I elected to forgo conventional cancer treatment of any kind and am following an intensive herbal protocol through the Mederi Center for Natural Healing in Ashland. In addition to herbs that support and strengthen my immune system, I am also taking herbs that help abate menopause symptoms. As important, I’ve learned a few other tricks I’d like to pass along.
After teaching multiple adult sex ed classes between 2015 and the present, conducting lots of research and through my own experience, I know that some women have so much pain with intercourse that suggesting a good lube as a solution is like suggesting putting out a forest fire with a squirt gun. A more comprehensive approach works better:
• I use a moisturizing/lubricating product called Aloe Cadabra, and using an applicator, I insert a healthy dollop every night before bed. This has helped so much to keep my vaginal tissues moist throughout the night and day. In addition, there is a wonderful protocol, The Vaginal Renewal Program, women can download and follow to help restore dry tissues. I highly recommend it. This is by far our best selling moisturizer/lubricant at As You Like It-The Pleasure Shop where I work.
• Once my tissues began responding, I started using a vibrating dildo a few times each week. Also part of the Vaginal Renewal Program, women can restore their ability to tolerate penetration by using internal vibration to stimulate muscles and tissues. The FeMani Wand is a good starter product, offering variable dildo sizes in a single kit. Women can increase the size as her muscles begin to relax and open. Following this protocol can help a woman not just tolerate intercourse, but to enjoy it once again. The FeMani Wand is available at As You Like It, along with other dilator kits.
• If my libido is flagging, I don’t hesitate to use erotica to fan the flames. The website literotica.com offers free erotica in many genres and new stories appear frequently. For many women, our minds and hearts need to be engaged before touch is appealing. Erotica can help us get there!
As I’ve mentioned before, being sexually engaged without the benefit of youthful hormones is a choice. And even still, after all this, it is my choice.
Jane Steckbeck is a sexologist and Certified Sex Coach. She lives with her husband of 26 years and two cats. A former lawyer and an accomplished public speaker, Jane is available to speak to groups. A member of Planned Parenthood’s Board of Directors, she has taught senior sex education classes through Planned Parenthood and As You Like It-The Pleasure Shop and recently spoke at AARP’s Vital Aging Conference in Eugene on Empowered Sexuality for Seniors. Jane recently joined the staff of As You Like It-The Pleasure Shop, Eugene’s only eco-conscious sexual wellness center and store. She maintains a second blog, Inspired to Connect, which addresses broader sexuality topics.