Wednesday, November 30, 2016

MONA LISA, THE TOUCH AND THE SMILE

It was a little over a year ago. I was at a small seminar. The room was arranged with the tables in a rectangular layout. At the far end, a screen for any power point slides. Around the other three sides, a group of about 20 women.

I think, if memory serves, there was one young man in the room. Poor guy. I'm sure there was a point that he wanted to crawl under a rock.

Put a bunch of women around a table and someone is bound to make a wise crack. What happens after the wise crack is made generally depends upon the woman around the table. On this day, we were a group of breast cancer patients, some of us post treatment, some in active treatment and some living with metastatic disease.

Between the chemobrains and the list of topics, it can be funny to watch and at times, a bit difficult to keep up. The conversation turned to quality of life and quality of life quickly turned to a discussion about quality of intimacy and the downright painful side effects many of us experience from the estrogen-suppressing medications we take. The way some of those medications wreak havoc on our skin, starting with the most sensitive skin like the thin skin under our eyes and well, to be quite frank, the pain some of us live with just by walking.

OK, so I'm really not trying to gross anyone out but it's a fact of life. It's part of the normal aging process but those cancer drugs tend to take the aging process and move it at warp speed. Chemotherapy induced menopause, tamoxifen, aromitase inhibitors like letrozole. Havoc. On Steroids. In some cases, literally as a part of the treatment protocol.

As the discussion bounced around the table, I was sitting directly opposite someone who, should she choose, can identify herself in the comments, was a bit quiet. She glanced at me and in a small voice, she said, "Mona Lisa Touch." I looked at the woman beside me and now we were both glancing across the table. "WHAT?" With a slight smile on her face, reminiscent of the upturned lips on the famous painting, again she said, "Mona Lisa Touch, just google it." As I was scribbling furiously before I forgot the order of the words because yes, it can happen that fast, the person seated to my left already had her phone out, googled it and handed the phone to me.

I have had Mona Lisa on my mind for a year. But, I had those nipple tattoos on my mind too and I took the path already paved for me. I knew what to expect, I knew where to go so the nipples got done and Mona Lisa remained "in the parking lot." (Another day, there will be an "in the parking lot" post for those, who like me, have no clue what that whole parking lot thing means.)  Mona Lisa Touch was on my "must investigate" list, aka my parking lot.

I've been so damn distracted lately, seems like I'm running around like a chicken without a head. Sometimes, email messages can sit for days. Sometimes, I read them on my phone and then, they could be in the email abyss. Thankfully, I didn't miss this email. It was from someone who is helping promote Mona Lisa Touch. She sent me a lovely and detailed email, included some journal publications and asked if I'd be interested in writing about the procedure in the space. In order to do that, I would be connected with a local doctor for complimentary treatment.

I was like Meg Ryan as I read the email. "Yes, Yes, YES!" my brain screamed and as soon as I emerged from my Harry Met Sally moment, I composed a dignified and proper response. Last month, I had my first of three treatments. Just 48 hours ago, and now round two is in the books.

Coordinating this was no easy task. I was running in and out of town for a few different meetings and then, the doctor was on vacation. All I will say about the wait, it was well worth it. It's no secret how I feel about being a partner in my care and I did look up the doctor who would be administering the treatment. She passed my first round of testing. She was great on paper. When I met her, well, let's just say in the course of this, she identified something that will require minimal surgical repair and although she quickly said she could arrange for a colleague on Long Island to take care of me, by that time, I just shook my head and stated, "Nope, you're my doc."

My first appointment with Dr. Nicole Fleischmann was on October 18. I immediately wanted to acknowledge my experience with both Dr. Fleischmann and Mona Lisa Touch on twitter and they certainly made it easy enough when I found this tweet.


What was it like? How do I feel? I can answer the first question, but not the second just yet. We spoke for a bit before she brought me into the treatment room. She duh, took a complete history, especially as it pertained to surgeries. The hysterectomy thing is kind of a big deal. No cervix and she's going to perform a vaginal procedure? Yes, I'd say that bit of info was important.

We then talked a little about the procedure. She explained that she gets the best results if she performs an internal treatment and an external treatment. She let me know I might feel like I have a vaginal sunburn which begs a few questions. Even if I were inclined to sunbathe in the nude, I'd have to strike some pose for that type of sunburn. Would it be appropriate to use sunblock? I'm guessing not but even if that were ok, wouldn't I need something like an SPF2000.

The procedure itself, despite the fact that she did what might be considered twice as much lasering, was finished in less than ten minutes. I felt nothing. In fact, the only thing I recall is being handed goggles to protect my eyes and then a whole mess of chatting about our personal lives. Funniest moment. The portrait of the Mona Lisa in her office. Her staff gave it to her, but not before they had her face superimposed under Mona Lisa's smile. 

My ride home was about an hour. Traffic not so bad and discomfort from the treatment non-existent, despite the fact I was not really dressed in appropriate attire. Sweat pants would have been a better choice than the jeans I was wearing.

I did not expect to notice any real difference until after the second treatment. Since that was done this past Monday, there will be an update. At the moment, I'm on the same 7-day ban on intimate relations as I was after the first treatment. Dr. Fleischmann wanted to make sure I derive the full benefit of Mona Lisa Touch so the treatment was more extensive or my body is just that much more of a mess than most. Normal ban? Two days.

Frankly, this messy lubricant thing is getting on my last nerve. I'll keep you in the loop as I fully expect to have a ceremonial garbage toss if the need for said lubricants is eliminated. Every time I see a commercial for the competitor of the little blue pill mentioning something about ruining the moment, I don't even try to hide my loud sigh and dramatic eye roll. Ruin the moment? Nothing that screams romance quite like, "Pass the K-Y." (insert sarcasm emoji) They can try to make those commercials seem like the K-Y is all fun and games, but spontaneity is where the fun is. 

Joking aside, completely aside, feeling pain when what my head knows I should be feeling pure pleasure, UGH. Sandpaper skin exponential UGH. Intimate relations may be considered optional to some. I would not be in that group but, walking is difficult to eliminate from the daily activities. Using any sort of estrogen cream seems counter-productive. I'm taking pills to suppress every gland in my entire body from producing estrogen and now, I'll slather it on myself? Although estrogen would likely help, its use in many breast cancer patients is somewhat controversial within the medical community and really, when I think about it, how does it make ANY sense to even consider using estrogen, especially when there is a better way.

Mona Lisa Touch is poised to resolve that problem. Read more on their website and come back here in a couple of weeks for a post treatment two update! 

My second date with the doc and the laser was on November 28th. My next post about Mona Lisa Touch may get Twenty Shades of Grey-ish.

One more treatment scheduled in January... after which, I'm guessing we may leapfrog well beyond Fifty Shades. Just thinking out loud here...


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