Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When Laser Met Vagina: the MonaLisa Touch, Part 1

Full disclosure: I received the MonaLisa Touch treatments for free so long as I blogged about it - the good and the bad. Anyone who knows me knows I don't sugarcoat anything; if something sucks, I'll tell you it sucks. That's the brutal honesty of my journalism upbringing. This procedure didn't suck, which is good because it involved a laser and my girly parts. Read on for installment No. 1 and stay tuned for updates about the other two MonaLisa Touch sessions.

Vaginas and lasers—I used to think those two things went together like "live wires" and "standing in a bucket of water." Do lasers belong in those delicate nether regions? Believe it or not, I'd argue they do.  

Over the course of the past year or so, there’s been some chatter in my online breast cancer Facebook support groups about this very topic. I, along with many other survivors and those called “previvors” (the brave gals who’ve gotten surgery to prevent hereditary cancer) would eagerly grill a group member about her experience with some fantastical device called the MonaLisa Touch. How many treatments does it entail? (3, about six weeks apart) How long did the treatments take? (About five minutes each) Was it painful? (No).

For most of us, the MonaLisa Touch procedure, which isn’t covered by insurance, was cost prohibitive at $500 or more per treatment (based on your physician and where you live), so we wanted every detail, every possible success or drawback before we even considered undergoing it—and we wanted multiple recommendations. Many agreed that even a modest amount of relief from our symptoms would make this worth it.

That’s certainly how I felt.

Menopause magnified

More than three years out from my breast cancer diagnosis at age 36, and more than two years after my hysterectomy/oophorectomy, I was painfully aware of the effects this cancer business and a lack of estrogen had had on my body. All the glorious things that come with menopause, things that take a good 10 years or more to hit most women, I had managed to squeeze into less than two years. At the age of 39, my libido was shot and my lady parts were like the Sahara Desert.  (I swear, I would wipe after peeing and there would be tumbleweed on the toilet paper.) And sex? That was about as pleasant as planting a bare bum on a Bunsen burner.

There are some studies focused on MonaLisaTouch and how it may relieve the painful symptoms of menopause, and many of the women in the Facebook groups had anecdotal tales of success. At the bare minimum, it seemed this laser treatment gave a small measure of relief. On the other end of the spectrum, there were women raving about how they could finally enjoy sex again for the first time in ages. I wanted to know where I’d fall on the spectrum, so I decided to saddle up.
Photo Credit: Rob Young

An approximation of how menopause made me feel, minus the camel

As luck would have it, someone from the breast cancer nonprofit I volunteer with knew someone who could hook me up with a doctor. Treatment would be complementary so long as I’d write about my experience.

To the laser!
Forever the health reporter and cynic, I didn’t have much in the way of high expectations as I jostled my way through the holiday crowds around New York City’s Rockefeller Center on my lunch break for my first of three 5-minute treatments. Couldn’t these people see I was on my way to get my vagina “lasered?” MOVE, people!

When I got to the office building of urogynecologist and author, Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, I contemplated forgetting the whole thing and opting instead for lunch at New York Yankees Steak next door. But I’m a Mets fan, and I had been through way worse. Time to buck up, buttercup.

Dr. Kavaler went through my rather depressing personal health history—bilateral breast cancer, BRCA2-positive, strong family history of breast cancer, double mastectomy, chemo, tamoxifen, painful intercourse—the whole nine yards. She debriefed me on the finer points of the laser, how the fractional CO2 power it harnessed was based on the same premise as the laser resurfacing plastic surgeons perform on the face to stimulate collagen production and give skin a more youthful appearance. My vagina was getting a facelift, so to speak.  But this wasn’t about making things look prettier down there.  Rather, I really wanted the treatment to make things function like they did before my cancer diagnosis.

“OK, are you ready?” Dr. Kavaler asked.
“Oh sure,” I said, as if I did this sort of thing every day.

And away I went, whisked off to an unassuming treatment room that housed no terrifying equipment, nothing resembling a blowtorch, which is good because scary equipment probably would have sent me screaming from the office.

A topical numbing agent was applied to the delicate areas and when everything was good and numb, the laser inserted. Slowly, Dr. Kavaler pulled it through the vaginal canal. At one point, I felt a slight pinching sensation that lasted for a split second. That was it. I was done a few minutes later.

Now, I’ve had some women ask me how it felt after treatment. The best way to describe it is, for about two hours after I completed that first treatment I felt like I had ridden many miles on a road bike—you know, those bikes with the really uncomfortable seats. But by that night, my vagina had recovered. I had no discharge or bleeding.

Now for the good stuff …
Of course, by this point you’re thinking, “Yes, Heather, but what about the sexy time?” Those who know me best will tell you, I don’t promote or rave about much.

I waited more than a week after my treatment to have sex with my husband, who, by the way, is pretty much the most patient and understanding man on the planet. I think he was curious about how things would feel post-treatment, maybe wondered if my vagina had some cool new super powers or something.

The first thing I noticed about the first time was that I had lubrication. Not a tremendous amount, but more than before. Prior to my treatment, it didn’t matter how turned on I was. There would be the need for lube. This time around, I still needed some help, but only a little. Which brings me to the next point…

Hallelujah! I had absolutely no pain! And sex actually felt, dare I say, very good. Is it like before I had my treatments and surgery? No. But I think with the second and third treatments, things will only get better, though I don't think things will ever be "the same as before."

Before treatment, I cringed at penetration and in my head I would be working out ways to avoid it. “You sure you want to do this? Whoa, was that an earthquake I just felt? Did someone just ring the doorbell? Hold up! I’m pretty sure I left a roast in the oven. I’d better go check.” Now, I look forward to sex and actually initiate it.

I certainly never thought I’d say this (or would have reason to, for that matter), but my vagina and I can’t wait for our next date with the laser. Stay tuned!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this review! I too am 36 years old and was diagnosed 6 months ago. After chemo things and induced early menopause things haven't been working in that department for the same reasons. I'm so happy to read your post and know that there is help!