*Name changed. Picture posed by model.
Philippa Henderson* says:
"I was Mr Gardner’s patient in 2015 at an NHS hospital. Initially, I was referred to him because I had abnormal smears. My smear tests kept coming back with pre-cancerous cells, so he said we would try treatment. I’d had a colposcopy and LLETZ treatment on the cells, but after another six months, the pre-cancerous cells could still be found on the neck of the cervix.
A hysterectomy and then HRT
Mr Gardner recommended a hysterectomy; although I was concerned, I was more worried about cancer so I was looking forward to recovering and not having to worry.
The plan was for me to have a hysterectomy and then go on HRT. But that's not how things turned out.
A week before the operation, I found a lump in my breast. The doctors were very concerned and said there was an 80% chance of breast cancer.
Naturally, I was very anxious – the results would normally have been given a week later, but my hysterectomy was booked in for that day.
In the event, Mr Gardner managed to look up the results for me before the operation.
When you have oestrogen-receptive cancer
He confirmed that not only was it breast cancer, but it was the oestrogen-receptive variety. This had an important implication for my surgery. Mr Gardner and I had previously agreed he would leave my ovaries alone. The reason being, if you have your ovaries removed, you will go into early menopause, with hot flushes and other symptoms.
However, the knowledge that my cancer was oestrogen-sensitive meant I had to make a decision about my ovaries - and fast.
I decided to have an oophorectomy to remove my ovaries to cut off the supply of oestrogen, which was making the cancer grow.
After my hysterectomy, I had to go through even more surgery and treatment for the breast cancer.
I went on to have a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. Thankfully I didn’t need chemo, as the cancer hadn’t spread. But I was put on an aromatase inhibitor medication for five years - this is designed to inhibit oestrogen even further.
What happens during a surgical menopause
The result? I was plunged straight into menopause.
The obvious symptom is the hot flushes, which are frequent and extreme.
But I wasn’t prepared for the vaginal dryness.
At first, I was extremely alarmed.
I’d gone out for a run and I felt a bit uncomfortable. When I jumped in the shower after my run, I noticed I was spotting blood.
My vagina was so dry, that the friction of running was making me bleed.
If I had sex, the same thing happened.
It was frightening.
Vaginal dryness is a symptom of the menopause
I saw Mr Gardner who examined me and reassured me that it wasn’t anything sinister, just vaginal dryness caused by the menopause.
The problem was, women usually solve this issue with oestrogen cream.
Obviously, I can’t use oestrogen cream and I also now actively try to avoid oestrogen in my diet - a nutritionist from The Haven (Wessex Breast Cancer support charity) had advised me to avoid dairy and tofu (which can contain oestrogen) and eat organic.
Hormone Replacement Therapy was obviously out.
However, Mr Gardner advised me that there was a new treatment available privately that may solve things for me – The MonaLisa Touch. This is a laser treatment that involves a special carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. This CO2 laser causes the production of new collagen, helping restore moisture to the vaginal wall.
Could this help me, I wondered. I went on to the MonaLisa Touch website. The first testimony was from someone who had an identical health history to me – breast cancer and a hysterectomy – and it worked for her after three treatments.
I decided to book in for a MonaLisa Touch course, and visited Twenty-five Harley Street for my three treatments.
Did it hurt? Not really. A slight sensation, but it wasn’t painful. It only took minutes. Each visit is spaced out by six weeks. During my third treatment Dr Gardner increased the laser settings and I did feel a little tenderness, but it was very manageable.
Most importantly, I noticed a difference - even after my first two treatments. I could run without spotting. I could have sex without discomfort and bleeding.
Long-term results from MonaLisa Touch®
Now, three months after my final treatment, everything feels back to normal - as if my surgical menopause hadn't happened.
The MonaLisa Touch has been brilliant for me. So much so, that just a few months on from my final treatment and I don’t even think about the vaginal dryness, bleeding, and general uncomfortableness.
This means that sex is again something to be enjoyed rather than feeling trepidation as to if it’s going to hurt or make me bleed. I’m also able to run and exercise without any issues - something which I feel is essential for my continued good health and also my state of mind.
I would recommend the MonaLisa Touch® treatment to anyone suffering from the same symptoms
Nobody warns you when you have a hysterectomy and breast cancer about all the side effects and how your life will not be exactly the same again, but the MLT treatment has certainly helped me to get back to where I was, and for that I am thankful."
* Name changed.