Cancer & intimacy: Sanford docs add to an app for that

Oncologist and psychologist host video classes on Rosy sexual health resource

Dr. Chery Hysjulien, Dr. Lyndsey Harper and Dr. Shelby Terstriep stand together during their efforts on the Rosy app

When she heard about a new app called Rosy to help women with sexual dysfunction, Dr. Shelby Terstriep had an idea.

The Sanford Health medical oncologist wanted to help address issues troubling not just her own patients, but many other cancer patients across the country.

And Dr. Terstriep’s idea gave the app creator a way to help patients who had told her they needed just that.

Dr. Lyndsey Harper, an OB/GYN who lives in Dallas, designed the Rosy app to help women struggling with sexual dysfunction. The resources on the app so far focus mainly on helping women who have low sexual desire — a number reaching 30 million in the U.S., she said.

Dr. Terstriep and Dr. Harper both recognize the difficulty women may have in seeking answers about their sexuality. And from their clinical experience, they realize providers don’t have all of those answers.

“We hear from patients all the time … that this is a topic that is really underdiscussed, and that it is something that patients need more information about,” Dr. Terstriep said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Harper said, “doctors really do want to help.” But a lack of education and training in sexual health can leave them feeling ill-equipped or uncomfortable during conversations with their patients.

Part of her intent for the app is, then, to offer doctors and therapists an informative tool they can trust and connect their patients with.

Resources on the app range from educational resources and self-help content to a library of erotica — “also an evidence-based intervention for low desire,” Dr. Harper said.

She’s continually expanding resources. “We don’t want people who have real problems to get fake solutions,” she said. “We want them to get high-quality, evidence-based information.”

Video classes focus on cancer survivors

As Dr. Terstriep was applying for a CDC grant related to cancer survivorship, she included among the intiatives her intent to help provide content for the Rosy app.

So after she received the grant, she and Dr. Chery Hysjulien, a Sanford Health psychologist who works with cancer patients, headed from Fargo, North Dakota, to Dr. Harper’s Texas studio.

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The Rosy app now has help for cancer survivors.

They filmed nearly 10 video masterclasses discussing a variety of topics of interest to cancer survivors, including the effect of fatigue on libido and how to maximize energy. Vaginal dryness, pain during sex and communication with your partner are a few other topics Dr. Terstriep and Dr. Hysjulien addressed.

The Rosy approach to education includes both medical and mental health, so both experts contribute well to the video series. “It really helps cancer survivors to approach the issue from all sides, learning more, understanding medical interventions and really employing mental health strategies to help cope with whatever they have going on,” Dr. Harper said.

Dr. Terstriep, who is also the medical director of cancer survivorship for Sanford Health, continually tries to find new ways to support cancer survivors by listening to them and understanding their needs.

“To be able to take what we’ve learned and then to be able to leverage that with technology and great partnerships is really what we want to see with the survivorship program,” Dr. Terstriep said.

“We want to work collaboratively with other people to really solve some big problems.”

A mutual appreciation

Dr. Terstriep and Dr. Harper both described how much they enjoyed working together.

Dr. Terstriep praised Dr. Harper’s ambition to not just recognize a problem, but to act on a solution. “That takes a different type of spirit, an entrepreneurial spirit, and I love that about her,” Dr. Terstriep said. “And I felt like she was my long-lost sister when I met her.”

Dr. Harper recognized Dr. Terstriep’s “entrepreneurial and innovative spirit” as well. She considered their connection for the Rosy app “meant to be” because app users had been asking her for cancer-specific content.

Dr. Terstriep and Dr. Hysjulien, Dr. Harper said, “are super passionate about what they do, and that shines through in their everyday work, but also in the content that they created for us.”

The app itself launched in early 2019, and the cancer survivor classes were added this past April.

Dr. Terstriep and Dr. Hysjulien also created for the app a checklist of sexual concerns that can be downloaded and used by women to help organize their thoughts and guide a conversation with their provider.

Educating doctors, too

Dr. Harper started the Rosy company because she learned, through a medical society on women’s sexual health, that “there are lots of evidence-based interventions that we can offer women, and reassurance and hope.”

The challenge, though, was reaching them with this information when their doctors aren’t familiar with it.

“We’re dedicated to really closing the gap between the resources that exist for women with sexual health problems and the women that need them,” Dr. Harper said.

Part of Dr. Harper’s work, then, has been reaching out to doctors in residency training across the country and sharing knowledge and resources with them. She reassures them that they can and should talk about sexual health with their patients, and that it doesn’t have to be complicated.

“Making sure that women are not suffering in silence is part of our job,” Dr. Harper said.

She lays out a couple of steps they can suggest trying for the most common sexual dysfunctions. If those don’t help, they can offer the patient a referral to a specialist.

Dr. Harper’s next step in her company’s mission aims to help women who would benefit from such a referral. “The telehealth side of Rosy will connect women to medical and mental health providers who specialize in women’s sexual dysfunction,” she said.

As they start in Texas and eventually extend to the rest of the country, Dr. Harper expects telehealth appointments with sex therapists and sex medicine providers to especially benefit women living in areas with limited access to those types of specialists.

Sanford efforts

Dr. Terstriep points to advances Sanford Health has made in trying to help Upper Midwest patients improve their sexual health.

Dr. Laurie Landeen, an OB/GYN, established the area’s first multidisciplinary Intimacy Clinic at Sanford Women’s Health Plaza in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She wanted to assure patients that options exist to address their sexual issues. Appointments at the clinic offer time and access to specialists for these discussions.

Meanwhile, the Pelvic Floor Clinic at Sanford Southpointe Clinic in Fargo is staffed to help with many pelvic floor issues — including those that can affect sexual function. The clinic was spearheaded by internal medicine specialist Dr. Jean Marie McGowan to normalize problems and offer relief to patients.

“We’ve been working … for several years to try to improve care and openness about problems with sexual health as though it’s just like any other medical issue,” Dr. Terstriep said.

So she appreciated the opportunity for the app to offer women baseline information.

It’s “a novel way,” she said, to empower women to pursue living their best lives.

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Cancer, Fargo, Gynecology, Midlife, Sioux Falls, Specialty Care, Women's

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