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Dan and I got back from vacation in San Francisco on Saturday. In addition to the amazing photographs, delicious food (Humphry Slocombe ice cream = nommm), scenic landscapes and unforgettable wine (Gundlach Bundschu = mmm), the trip also delivered serious peace of mind. One reason: I went to the Owning Pink Center as a patient of Dr. Lissa Rankin’s, who you may also know as the author of the book that comes out today (and which you should own ASAP!) What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin’s). See, the thing is, she actually is my very good friend. That’s just one reason why I wanted her to also be my doctor, because last month, I realized that I’ve been grappling with hormone-related symptoms for far too long…

Rewind to two days after my 27th birthday. My regular OB/GYN—who had ben a piece of cake to deal with when I was on the dreaded Pill—began to strike me as standoff-ish. Her in-and-out in 5 minutes flat attitude wasn’t going to cut it. I decided that I needed to sit down with someone wise, compassionate and interested in treating me holistically—as a whole person, not just a handful of acute symptoms. Enter Lissa.

This is one doctor who doesn’t wear a white coat and stand and preach while you sit and listen. On Thursday, Lissa wore a purple dress while we sat in her cozy office’s plush chairs and discussed my sex life, my stress level, my blood work and my fertility. It’s definitely easier to open up about all of these topics when your doctor is your friend. But even if she isn’t, you’d probably feel immediately at ease simply because her office is a warm, welcoming place.

We weren’t more than 20 minutes into our session—Lissa devotes an hour to each patient—when she looked at my labs that I had done in March with my NJ endocrinologist. “Wow, your TSH level!”

I said, “Wait, what?”

In the moment, I was so focused on Nonclassical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia as the epicenter of all of my ailments that I couldn’t remember what TSH was. Lissa explained that it’s Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, which the pituitary gland overproduces when the thyroid is sluggish in producing thyroxine, a metabolism-stimulating hormone. And while my levels are in the realm of what clinicians consider “normal,” Lissa noted that most people at my level tend to not feel very well.

Fatigue = not OK. (Image via obo-bobolina/Flickr)

Then, she asked me some follow-ups… How is my quality of sleep? I heard myself say, “Bad.” (Whoa, I thought to myself! I never really said that out loud before, but I guess my sleep isn’t really what I want it to be… I want to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep better. I told her this.) How is my skin? Combo/itchy sometimes, too. How is my energy level? Poor. I never met a nap I didn’t want to take. Just about any time of the day. I’m especially tired around 3 p.m. daily. And by the time I get home from work, I just want to throw myself on the couch. I’ve always chalked that up to stress, sitting all day at work, the wrong or nonexistent snacks perhaps. But, no, it’s more than that. Do I wake up feeling energized? Rarely. Have I had a ridiculously hard time trying to lose a small amount of weight? YES! Does anyone in my family have a history of thyroid problems? (It can be genetic.) Yes, yes, YES. My Grandma E, who I am pretty sure I take after biologically, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at…get this…age 27!

Soon, Lissa concluded that yep, I’m symptomatic of hypothyroidism, or a sluggish, underactive thyroid. Treatment could get the gland chugging like it should, in turn, bolstering my energy. Not to mention the other symptoms… The thyroid and metabolism influence so many other body processes. In fact, hypothyroidism can prevent effective weight loss, cause weight gain, cause thinning of the hair, increased sensitivity to cold, muscle aches, dry skin, etc. I’d been wondering why I had been dealing with various symptoms – I had been wishing and hoping for answers. But none came, until I saw Lissa as a patient.

I read later that many people with thyroid problems don’t have any stand-out symptoms other than feeling “off” overall. So why isn’t it something that most doctors regularly look at or take into consideration more frequently? Why do numbers on lab work have to be astronomically high or deliriously low for them to do anything for us? Lissa explained that “normal” hormone levels are based on a given healthy population; most docs won’t treat you unless you’re in the lower 5th percentile or upper 95th percentile. But she’s found that patients may not feel very well when they’re on one side of the extreme (say, 60th-90th percentile). And they do fantastically with treatment.

Image via Son of Groucho/Flickr

I’m the opposite of Rx happy, but when Lissa suggested treating me with bioidentical (meaning the body can actually recognize the drug as identical to what the body produces) thyroid hormones, I could have shouted, “Sign me up!” It was like she found a missing puzzle piece, and I was stepping back to look at the completed masterpiece…

…Well, not quite. There’s still the NCAH, which I plan to work on with Lissa’s naturopath/partner, Lisa Brent, N.D. And other puzzle pieces that are floating out there. But I am confident now that I’ll find them, and that I have the support I need now to feel fully vital.

I’ve said it before, but I feel more strongly than ever now that we all deserve doctors who will will treat us as whole people, not just numbers on a chart. We deserve to be heard and to have our concerns validated. We deserve doctors who will look out for us as if they were our best friend. If that doesn’t describe your doctor, and you have concerns about any aspect of well-being … I strongly encourage you not to settle and to keep searching until you find the right doctor. She or he may help you find answers to questions that you didn’t know you’ve been asking all along.

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(Photo via menstruationresearch.org)

On Friday afternoon/evening, I got swept up in what can only be described as a brilliant, bold, Twitterific takeover of Midtown Manhattan by over 2,000 lady bloggers aka BlogHer ’10. My friend and associate (I edit her magazine column at First for Women), Lissa Rankin was one of the keynote speakers at the Voices of the Year Community Keynote, and she graciously invited me as one of her guests to see the speech and party afterward at the BlogHer Gala.

Although Lissa and I hadn’t discussed any of the details of what she would be presenting in her keynote, I nodded knowingly when she began reading her Op/Ed post, “What? We Can’t Say ‘Vagina‘?” If you don’t recall, this past spring, there was controversy regarding a Kotex tampon commercial that featured the word for the body part that tampons are for. The company had two choices: Give up the “vagina” or bury the spot. In her post, Lissa wisely weighs in and calls out the irony and insanity of our squirminess as a society to verbalize the female genitalia—especially in the Kotex context. The response? She had a blogger-filled ballroom literally standing up to those lame-o TV execs by chorusing, “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!”

You can check out a video of Lissa reading her post at BlogHer here.

I’m always talking about loving your body. And for the most part, when talking about body confidence, we tend to think of curves, muffin-tops, jiggly thighs and maybe breasts. But what about the part of our body that TV networks would prefer to shroud in secrecy? The part of our body, which as Lissa points out, is where all human life comes from! After Friday night, I started to think … Maybe it’s about time we start cultivating our vagina confidence! We could have a soap company sponsor a “Campaign for Real Vaginies” and Jessica Simpson could have a show on cable called “The Price of Pretty Coochies.” 🙂

But in all seriousness, we need to take more pride in our “private” parts. I know, I know, it all stems from this backasswards Puritanical idea that we perpetuate as Americans that boobies and vulvas are to be bleeped out, covered up, blocked out with black boxes when shown on TV and slapped with an X rating (whereas blood, guts and guns—that’s just PG). And I’m not advocating that we start throwing “bottom-less” parties a la Harold and Kumar. But we should really listen to what Lissa’s saying and work toward being comfortable and confident as women with saying “vagina,” “vulva” or even a euphemism when naming our own normal, perfectly beautiful genitalia. Communication breeds empowerment, and no one else is going to own your health, your sexuality and your well-being like you can. So, let’s do like Lissa and start a vagina confidence revolution. One defiant chant of “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!” at a time.

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