Sex toys. I admit I was never interested in them.
“Mae,” I can hear you groaning, “I’ve barely digested Thanksgiving dinner. Why must you bring this up?”
It’s a good story so pour some wine, sit back and read. Yes, I’ll be talking about sex toys and hysterectomies and I warn you, it won’t end the way you think it will.
It was exactly six days from the moment I met with my surgeon to the date of my hysterectomy. On the third day before my operation, I feared for my sex life but since it seemed my actual life was on the line I didn’t stop the scheduled surgery. Instead, I cried to my sisters who swore they would help me find someone to talk to who would help me find the answers I needed. A month later, Lisa gave me the name of a sex therapist at Sloan Kettering. My surgeon, though brilliant, didn’t have the bedside manner to answer my questions. He said everything would be just fine. I knew there was more I needed to know and made the appointment.
I don’t come from people who go to therapists to discuss their problems let alone their sex life. The thought wasn’t even on my radar. In retrospect, I would never have imagined the past two years at all. Still, one month after my hysterectomy, I found myself in the waiting room of Dr. C, a sex therapist. I wasn’t really sure as to what to expect from my meeting and tapped my legs in a weird little beat. No one in my circle had any experience at this. My name was called and I jumped up propelled by embarrassment. The doctor’s office was like any doctor’s office with a desk in the middle and chairs on either side. The only difference were the 5 boxes of tissues on the desk. My only thought was, she expects me to cry.
Dr. C. read my history from the past year and a half. “You had a lumpectomy in May 2010, a mastectomy in July 2010, your mother died in September 2010, breast reconstruction in January 2011 and a hysterectomy in June 2011.” She looked over the chart at me with sad, comforting eyes. It was now August 2011 and that was one sorry tale of woe she just rattled off. Silence filled the room and the boxes of tissues were waiting. “Yes, that’s my story.”
I suddenly realized she had no idea where this meeting was going either. She was waiting for me to direct it and I was intent on avoiding the tissue boxes. I said, “I’ve had some major parts of my body cut off and out and I want to know how to move forward from here. What do I need to do to take care of the parts I have left?” Immediately four tissue boxes were swept aside and a large chart of female anatomy replaced them on the desk. She left one box “just in case” but I never needed it. Instead, we went into a biology lesson with moisturizing tips for my vagina and she used the same phrase over and over again.
“Use it or loose it”
“I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband right now.” My face showed confusion. That’s when I learned about sex toys and how I would need to purchase them. Yes, I had to buy sex toys under doctor’s orders. “Use it or loose it.” That was the main point driven home at this meeting. I could buy my dildo on the Internet or I could just go to a number of stores here in the city. My head hurt.
Later Vita said, “I’ll go with you but I’d rather not.” Another friend found the idea titillating and wanted to go but it was more like a crazy adventure for her. It was my friend Jen who had the correct amount of enthusiasm and knowledge. “I know exactly where to go. We can have dinner first.” I liked that she had incorporated dinner and wine with this odd little shopping spree. The Catholic girl in me was jittery and a bit in shock. Who would think cancer would send me to an adult toy store? We ate at Shiller’s Liquor Bar and then walked down the block to Babes in Toyland.
I’ve always walked by Babes in Toyland but never could see into the place. They have a glass front with a solid stripe painted so you can’t really see who or what is inside. Jen and I walked through the front door and behind the solid stripe. My legs were a bit shaky and Jen was in full sail. Jen is an ex rock star with curly black hair and an air that screams fun. We go over to the right and she starts pointing out the toys she likes as though we were in a bakeshop. The sales clerk comes over and she picks up on Jen’s energy and shows us a penis that can do 180’s. I want to die on the spot and my face shows it. It’s then I blurt out, “We’re here for me and I don’t want to be here. I’ve had a hysterectomy and the doctor said I had to use it or loose it and I don’t want to loose my sex life.” I’m now ready to melt into the floor from embarrassment. The sales woman almost changes visually. When she first came over she had a swagger. Piercings on her face and tattoos up her arms she seemed frightening but after my little outburst she softened in a sisterly kind of way. We left the 180 penises to a corner where the doctors prescribed ones are kept lined up like little soldiers. They come in three sizes and don’t do anything special but help soften scar tissue. She showed me the lubes and then offered up a book Intimacy After Cancer. It’s exactly what I needed.
I make my selection and Jen’s all excited we got the task done. It’s then that I thank the sales woman. “It was my honor,” she says. “I couldn’t help my mother and it made me happy to be able to help you.” From the way she said it, I knew her mother had cancer and wasn’t alive. My heart sank and I just nodded to her. I thought I was so alone and here was a total stranger who knew how to help me. Here was a stranger who had lost her mother and I knew her pain. All of my fears were for naught.