My dear patient,
We’ve seen each other three or four times now over the last few months at the Program in Integrative Sexual Medicine Clinic here at the University of Chicago and you are doing so much better that I think today is the day we will agree that you don’t need me anymore. You came to me for help with the difficulties you’ve had with your sexual function since your cancer treatment and now you have graduated from my care. Before you go, I want to tell you how you have inspired us to create WomanLab for you. And all women. And all the people who love women.
In our visits together, we have talked about your cancer – when it was diagnosed, how you found it, what your treatment has been like. We talked about how you have coped, who has supported you, and how you have joined a rowing group for exercise and support. We talked about your life and health before cancer, your illnesses (few – you were healthy until cancer), the medicines you are taking, the ones you are reluctant to take, and the ones you stopped taking and why. We talked about your injuries (you broke your tailbone once) and losses and the physical and emotional traumas you have experienced. We talked about your weight, how you feel about your body, your scars, your exercise and fitness, your nutrition. How you love dark chocolate and so do I!
We talked about your sleep and where and how you sleep and why. Do you snore? Does your spouse snore? We talked about why sleep is so fundamentally important for your mental health, your immune and cardiovascular system and your sex life. We talked about your children’s health. How much privacy you have (not much) at home. Whether you and your spouse have a lock on your bedroom door (I admit that I don’t), when was your last vacation or date. We talked about drinking (rarely, but if you think you are going to have sex, you’ll definitely have a drink first) and smoking (never) and how you bathe. What kinds of products you use on your body, especially in your genital area, and why. We talked about your work and how badly you want to get back to work.
We talked about all this to understand your main concern that you couldn’t have sex anymore since you were treated for cancer. You couldn’t have sex because it was so physically painful. It was like “he was hitting a wall,” it was “like I’m a virgin again,” it was like “my vagina is shut down,” it was like “I’m going to tear open.” It was frightening for you and your husband (“Could it be a tumor in my vagina?”). No. It’s very unlikely that you have a tumor in your vagina, I told you. You said that sex is so painful that you don’t even have any interest in sex anymore. Your libido is gone. You avoid even holding hands or kissing your husband because you don’t want to lead him on. You are worried about him. “He doesn’t deserve this.” You feel that sex is important for your marriage and your life, even though you have no desire at all for sex. You worry your husband might look for someone else. Then you would have cancer and be out of work and be alone. You feel despair. It’s been two years since you even tried to have sex but now you feel you are running out of time to fix this problem. You didn’t know why you were having these problems (you’ve been told you just need to relax, but that isn’t working). You don’t know what to do. You wonder if anyone else ever had this kind of problem after her cancer treatment. You ask me if I had ever heard of problems like these before.
And now you know that I have heard of these problems before. I hear about these problems every day. One patient at a time. And you know now why you experienced these problems and that they were not just in your head. You know that you were able to recover from these problems. And you and I both feel happy because you are better. And we feel frustrated and sad that no matter how many friends you tell about what you learned and no matter how many patients I see, we can’t possibly reach enough people this way. We agree that every woman and everyone who loves women needs to know what we know. We agree on this even though your skin is brown and mine is pale. You are Christian and I am not. You live in the suburbs. I live in the city. We might not have voted the same. But we agree that every woman should know what we know about how to help a woman preserve and recover her sexual function.
And that’s what WomanLab is about. WomanLab is creating a place where every woman and everyone who loves women can learn truths about female sexuality. WomanLab is women scientists using the tools and discoveries of science to care intensively for women. WomanLab scientists work with women to identify the most pressing problems and to solve them. The principle of justice is one of the three pillars of medical ethics. Justice in medicine means people are treated fairly. WomanLab engineers solutions to injustices that unfairly deprive women of their ability to function sexually. Sexual function is a basic human function.
WomanLab combines the power of knowledge with the power of women to ensure that every woman knows what she needs to know to preserve and recover her sexual function. WomanLab is for you.
Stacy Lindau, MD