My name is Suzanne Sinatra. I am a woman, a friend, a sister, a daughter and I am the CEO and Founder of Private Packs. I fought breast cancer, and I won. October is breast cancer month, and before this year I never paid attention to this type of cancer or any other cancer ribbon, month, or drive. Why? The disease did not affect me or anyone in my family, yet.
Now I know breast cancer. It is a killer and it's savage. According to Breastcancer.org about 1 in 8 women in the United States (about 12.4%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States, along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
My name is Suzanne Sinatra, and I am the founder of Private Packs. I design ergonomic cool and heat personal packs for the privates - yes those privates. I selfishly created this product because I went for my usual Brazilian wax, and this time the esthetician ripped off all my hair and skin. When I got home, I opened my freezer, and it was as if my vagina said: “You're not putting peas on me!" I shared this with my friends and to my surprise, they shared with me their painful vagina stories and instances they could have used a personal pack.
Either after a Soulcycle sweat session, after childbirth, first lesbian sex, during their recurring UTI's or during their period or more. What shocked me was not that they had these experiences, but that I've known some of these women for over ten years and they never shared with me their intimate pain until I shared with them mine. Just as menstruation was at one time considered taboo (Thanks Thinx!), vaginal pain is sub taboo - we don't talk about it even to our fellow tribe members.
In 2015, I had my annual mammogram, and the Radiologist saw something that concerned them. They called me, wrote me letters begging me to come back in for more tests. I remember thinking “I don't have time for this, I'm building a startup." I decided to ignore them.
Fast forward to 2017. I was exhausted, more than usual. I was working on my startup before and after work until the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. I wore my tiredness as a badge of honor. Yeah! I'm a great entrepreneur because I'm super tired and I have bags under my eyes that are the size of Casper mattresses.
In hindsight, that sounds so wrong. I can't even fathom today what made me think that living like that was actually living. But this is what many in the startup community consider as skin in the game. Investors want to see founders work this hard, and other entrepreneurs admire it. I felt that I had to go even harder than everyone else because I'm a first-time entrepreneur, I'm female, and I'm black. I purposefully did not take care of myself because I felt that being seen as a serious entrepreneur was more critical than my wellbeing.
Two months away from launching my Indiegogo campaign and still working full-time, a guy I was into broke up with me over text. Think Carrie Bradshaw and Burger 2.0. Pissed off and disappointed I hugged myself, and as my right hand swiped my left breast I felt it.
WTF! I ran to the mirror, and I saw that my left breast had a divet. I instantly knew what it was. Over the next few weeks, I had a mammogram and biopsy that left my body and spirit black and blue, but I couldn't dwell in that too long because I was simultaneously getting ready for a product launch, auditioning for a TV show, and I had a 9-5 job. It was too much, but I still kept going.
August 11th at 2:47 pm, my doctor called me and said the three words no one wants to hear, “Suzanne, you have cancer." The Mohammed Ali level of beating I gave my spirit commenced on that day; "You did this to yourself, you deserve cancer because you didn't take care of yourself, you're dumb, you were warned and being accepted by others meant more to you that your health." I was sad, alone and directionless. I had to find an oncologist. I now have a recurring disease, but I only had two months of savings, I didn't even have food in the fridge. How was I going to take care of myself with cancer? What was going to happen to Private Packs? Am I still going to feel like a woman? Was this the end of my dating life? Was I going to die? Was I going to die alone?
My doctor forced me to postpone my product launch. I am happy that for once I listened to them because the body changes came so swiftly that I didn't have the physical strength to launch a product.
The worst symptom of chemotherapy for me was losing my libido. My sex drive, sexuality, and sensuality – poof it was gone. I can only assume because I was single that my doctors didn't warn me or help me understand the effects of early menopause and the relationship between cancer treatment and sexuality. I became a shell of a person.
My last chemo was scheduled the day after my birthday. The end of this ordeal was near! However, I got another phone call that nobody wants to get from their doctor "Suzanne, we're stopping your chemo. Your cancer has spread and the tumors have grown. You're going to need surgery in a few weeks. Also, you will have to get a mastectomy instead of the planned lumpectomy and remove all of the lymph nodes in your left arm." I loved my breasts, They were beautiful 38D, identical twins. With removing my breast they also took what I felt at the time was my identity as a woman.
"I couldn't go to the women's march and risk getting sick but I made signs for the ladies to march with."
Suzanne Sinatra at the Yayoi Kusama art exhibit.
Throughout treatment and before surgery, I worked on Private Packs even though I didn't formally launch it there was a lot of work to be done. I carried my laptop to chemo, I attended essential networking events. I pushed my body, and I listened to it. If I needed to stay home, I did. If my body required rest, I rested. At 44, I finally started to respect my body and my wellbeing.
After my mastectomy, I had an identity crisis as a founder of a personal healthcare brand. Private Packs' mission is to create personal wellness products and educate consumers that their genital health and personal wellness is important to their overall health. Being a founder of a personal wellness brand made me feel like a fraud because I'm doing the complete opposite of what I created our mission to be. I did not look after my genital health, but I'm telling other people to do so? I felt like a phony, a bullshitter, a fake. Private Packs is a compassionate company. A difference maker. How was I going to do that if I did not walk the walk and talk the talk?
Five months after treatment I can proudly say that I have evolved as a woman and a founder because of breast cancer. I have stopped beating myself up, I am more confident because I live in MY truth. And that, yes, I neglected my health, but I woke up to what I was doing before it was too late. I love myself. I'm still a woman with one breast. I don't have my libido, and now I have vaginal atrophy because if you don't use it, you really do lose it. My doctor still has not spoken to me about sex and cancer, so I took the initiative to learn about it on my own. I referred to http://www.cancersexnetwork.org/ for information. Additionally, instead of watching Pornhub for a quickie I watch Make Love Not Porn because it is not a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of experience. Toilet paper is too rough because of the vaginal dryness, so I use Unbound Booshie wipes that I store in the fridge and bathroom, and I use Womanizer's InsideOut because I need vibration 3-5 times a week to stimulate the pelvic blood flow and restart my vaginal moisture. I'm a woman.
Today, Private Packs is still on its mission, and my voice as its leader is from a place of experience and authenticity. I have persevered, I'm strong and I have overcome my own self-imposed roadblock because of cancer.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."