I am Not Cancer

Eileen, 23 July 2014, 13 comments
Categories: Healing
Tags: , , , ,

I am not sick. I am Eileen. Eileen is my given name from birth. That label helps people to identify me and all that I am. Incidentally, I had breast cancer, but breast cancer is not me and I am not it. We had a relationship. It didn’t work out. We parted ways. I will never forget breast cancer as it made a permanent impression on my life and left a few scars. I hope our paths never cross again.

I’d been sick for so long and recovering even longer that I’d taken on a sick person’s identity. Eileen the Sick. The One with the Cancer. Has there been a day that’s gone by in the last four years where the word “cancer” didn’t enter my conversation? And if not my conversation, surely my thoughts.

Cancer became part of my identity – a familiar comfortable place I didn’t shed even when health returned. True, health returns slowly, bit by bit, and sometimes one doesn’t notice slipping into the Okay Zone. The residual complaints make Okay hard to recognize, what with all those ambiguous symptoms that hang around like unwanted guests. I blame all of that on cancer, just in case. If I’m not sure about my aches, pains and cognitive blips, I figure it must be cancer’s fault. It’s a convenient catch-all for all my problems, something I appreciated when cancer and I were in a relationship. I suppose I haven’t wanted to part with that perk. Even if it’s not cancer’s fault, I can’t think of a worthier scapegoat. It’s the cancer! I say. I’m exhausted, thanks to cancer! A twinge of pain pounds my temple. Damn cancer!

Cancer is an easy target at which to aim the arrows of anger, fear and blame. Other times, cancer is like a warm blanket to wrap myself in when I wish to hide from a cold, harsh world. Heck, the only thing I haven’t done is bronze and display it on my mantle. Probably because I don’t have a fireplace or mantle, or I might have done that too.

True, cancer is responsible for a lot that’s been and some that remains. No wonder I became habituated to being ill. Fatigue. Headaches. Insomnia. Neuropathy. And on and on it goes. This has been my norm for a long time. When many of my symptoms began to subside, it didn’t register when I slipped into a state of wellness.

On average it takes 66 days to form a new habit, give or take depending on the specific habit. Even at the upper end of the scale at 254 days, most cancer patients treat and continue to feel ill during recovery well beyond 254 days. No wonder being sick becomes ingrained in us. No wonder some of us get so used to it that we don’t see we’re well even when it creeps up on us.

I’ve had many days where I felt great, just to get smacked down after an over-zealous bout of over-activity, as if my body reminded me I’m not allowed to have fun. It put me in my place and reminded me who I really am – a sicko. Because of this, I often refrained from planning things with others. Who knew if I’d be up to it? And we all know fun is no fun when you’re not up to it.

There’s much at stake when you realize you’re no longer sick, the most noble being the threat to our bonds with others who have cancer. The identification and empathy we have with those currently in treatment and those with mets who will never be out of the woods runs deep. Those relationships have become meaningful and we don’t want to let them go, nor should we. But on an unconscious level, sometimes we hold on to the cords that bind, that which brought about the bonds we have with each other.

Sometimes there are fears about getting back into normal life. For me as a now-single person, I had not been the least bit interested in dating again. I’d been too preoccupied with survival – rebuilding my health and healing my wounded psyche. Yet as I’ve healed, I feel myself opening up to that possibility again. Relationships are what people do. That too is part of health. It’s scary to open up after being closed off for so long. I hear people talk about their relationship problems and wonder what planet they’re on. Yet, I’ve had those kinds of problems in the past and even during cancer when I was married to the Caregiver.

The real question is, what planet have I been on? It feels as though I’ve lived in a foreign country for the past few years and have had a difficult time assimilating back into my own culture. Yet, am I really so different? Don’t “regular people” have stuff to deal with? Whether it’s health or family problems or job stress, death of a loved one or loss of a job, these are all human situations that come under the greater umbrella of Challenges. Not one person escapes, even if the scope and intensity vary.

Shedding light on all of this enabled me to make an important shift. It’s not that I no longer need to massage the lymphatic swelling in my right arm. Some of my toes and fingers will always have nerve damage and the scars on my breast will never fade. The difference, though, is I’m not sick anymore. It caught me off-guard when I realized I’m okay. The cancer is in the past. Even if there were a recurrence, I can’t live in fear of something that does not exist today. Today, I am well. It might take 66 days to get used to this, but that’s a habit I’d like to take on.

Shockwaves

Eileen, 06 July 2014, 4 comments
Categories: Emotional Fallout, Healing
Tags: , , ,

Cancer thuds
like rocks hurled deep
Ripples flow

   I’M WOUNDED…
     I’m wounded…
        i’m wounded…

The tale told
A single-note gong
Like shockwaves

   I’M WOUNDED…
     I’m wounded…
        i’m wounded…

Cried until
the shrill sparrow’s call
awakens

a rising
dulcet major chord
That warbles

   i’m okay…
     I’m okay…
        I’M OKAY…

 

Why is healthcare like a writing desk?

While pre-existing conditions are no longer a legal basis to deny health coverage, all is far from being sweet and just in healthcare.

I work in an office where the health plan is so deficient that many of the employees can’t afford to go to the doctor. While we’re insured, the effect is pretty much the same as having no insurance.With a $4,000 deductible and 20% in network after that, a serious illness could do substantial damage, and I’m not talking about your physical health.https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR0P-mP2uU5Pxv654qOA7mCRC2n1I-UmPA-IGR6qG0Ya84Jy3D92mQ8G1nG

For me personally, I guess I’m okay. Last I’d heard I was NED, but I really wouldn’t know. Other than mammograms, I haven’t been scanned or seen by an oncologist since the day I finished treatment in January 2011. I’m thrilled to have clear mammograms, but those are regional. If anything slipped out into the rest of the body, it remains a mystery.

My GP said, “It’s less than five years. You really should see an oncologist.”

I said, “Why? I was Triple Negative, so I’m not on Tamoxifen. Convince me why I need to see an oncologist.”

She said, “I don’t know why exactly.  I just know you should see one.”

I said, “I’ll go online. I’ll see one.”

Many of us weigh our bank accounts against our physical symptoms. We gamble on how much pain we can stand before we cave and see a doctor. We Google symptoms to attempt self-diagnosis, pop over-the-counter medications, and pep-talk ourselves with the mantra: Nothing’s wrong, I’m okay. We become gamblers who pay with our health because we don’t have enough chips to play the game.

And how many chips do we need exactly? There are no right or wrong answers. No really, I mean that.

Is there any other industry where you purchase a product without knowing how much you’re obligated to pay? Even when the medical staff makes phone calls and manages to come up with a number, it never actually ends up being that number. The people from whom you buy the product don’t even know how much their services cost. No wonder because it’s different for everyone. So many variables. But don’t worry. Just get treated. What’s more important than your health? It’s certainly more important than money – until you get hit with a bill you can’t pay. The stress alone could kill you.

This is why healthcare is not like a writing desk (apologies to Lewis Carroll). If I purchase a writing desk, I will be told clearly how much it costs. I can take it at that price or perhaps  negotiate with the shop owner. Either way, I don’t bring it home until I pay up front or make some arrangement for payment on an amount we both understand and agree to.

Healthcare issues are complex and convoluted. I don’t know the answer but I do know this: something must change when the biggest cause of American bankruptcies is the inability to pay medical bills.  Check out these staggering statistics in this article about medical bankruptcies.

I used to think that U.S. health care was offered as a luxury for those who could afford it and by extension, this was a statement on human value. If you could afford it, or your boss afforded you a decent plan, you were worthy of treatment and your life worth saving. If not, your human worth was devalued and deemed irrelevant by a twisted system.

I’ve re-thought all that recently and have come to a different conclusion.

It’s not really philosophical.

It’s not even personal.

It’s not about you or me.

It’s just greed.

Cancer: A Gift?

Eileen, 14 June 2014, 13 comments
Categories: Healing, Personal Growth
Tags: , ,

Doctors may fix us, but it is we who heal ourselves. That may involve the aid of others, but we are the ones who do the deep work of inner exploration that allows us to do what is needed to heal.

I’ve been adamant that cancer is not a gift, that it’s been a curse that wrought havoc, trauma and diminished capacity, robbing me of health, wellbeing, finances, and social pleasure. It left permanent symptoms and plenty of scars, both physical and emotional. I’ve said before that if cancer is a gift, I’d like to return it please.

Until recently when a strange thing started happening. The strangeness revved up and now I’m almost ashamed to admit, to say this in public, because I know my readers and I read many of your blogs and this is not who you’ve known me to be, but I’ll go ahead and spit it out:

Cancer has been a gift. At least to me.

Please don’t get me wrong. It is not and will never be this:

Pink Gift Box

Whatever it is to me will certainly not be the same for you and wasn’t even that to me six months ago.

It’s just that in some weird yet brilliant way, this hellish trip has given me the impetus, consciousness and empowerment to make changes I’ve always wanted to make on some level. It stripped people, places and things from my life and has set me on a path that allows for continued purging. The imposition of cancer/chemo’s seeming limitations has forced me to look at my life from a different angle and head toward new vistas.

Cancer is a brutal, merciless force but after four years, I’ve gotten to a point where the same power tool that ripped up my whole life is now being used to rebuild in a whole new way.

I apologize for the cryptic nature of this post. Stay tuned, but for now, just know I am grateful.

 

Art Petting

Eileen, 06 June 2014, 9 comments
Categories: Humor
Tags: , , , ,

Houston June 2014 014 I’m back from Houston, Texas. It was my first time in Texas except for driving through a few years back. Having grown up on the East Coast, and now living on the West Coast, I admit that I’ve been influenced by the preconceived notions of others about other parts of the country. You know, that vast part that’s in between. Not that I’m close-minded, of course.

Which is why I discovered that Houston is totally cool. It really is a great city. Despite the humidity and mosquitoes, I found it to be friendly, affordable, with every good thing any major city has to offer.

See the photo of the sign? It’s from Hermann Park in Houston – a truly awesome park. They had sculptures and other art on display … and then this curious sign. No “petting” the art? We had a brief discussion as to what that actually means. Can you touch the art as long as you don’t engage in stroking motions that simulate petting? Can you poke it? Lick it? Hypothetically, of course. None of us wanted to get oral with the art.  But I’ve always had a compulsion to touch art when the guards at museums aren’t looking.  To isolate “petting” leaves wide open a whole cornucopia of touching that’s legal.

Then again, maybe we found the sign’s warning to be curious because we misunderstood. Maybe it was never its intention to prohibit touching with motion. It just occurred to me, yes, right now as I’m typing, that the City of Houston does not want you to get kinky or engage in sexual foreplay with the art. No petting the art! What you do with art displayed in your home is your business, but when you’re in a public park, no second or third base, and definitely not more. Not with the art. Which leads me to yet another question. Can I kiss it?

If any Houstonians, or anyone for that matter, would like to offer an interpretation of the warning, be my guest!

 

The Cancer Card

Eileen, 22 May 2014, 1 comment
Categories: Humor
Tags: ,

I’m going out of town in a couple of days and won’t blog for another two weeks, but wanted to post something before I go. I found an article I wrote right after I finished treatment in January 2011. I’ve posted it in part with a short follow-up story. Since writing it, after watching too many people die from cancer, I hope my humor isn’t in poor taste. If anyone finds it  inappropriate, I offer my humblest apologies.

 THE PERKS OF CANCER

You may ask, what’s so good about cancer?

For all its trouble, cancer does come with benefits, namely, the Cancer Card. It’s a well-known perk among cancer patients, even if the non-sick are too blinded by compassion, or even revulsion, to recognize it in action. No question about it, though, it’s there.

Where is this Card? Well, don’t waste your time perusing through the stacks of hospital packets or medical records. You won’t find it buried there, not even tucked away in the back. But trust me on this one. If you have the misfortune of having cancer and haven’t already discovered the Card, it’s only a matter of time before you unearth this cornucopia of joy. Or if you don’t, that’s really too bad because it’s the only thing going for cancer. With all you’ve been through, do yourself a favor and collect your benefits.

Understand that for some, the card has an expiration date. If you get well, and I hope to God you enter remission and live long, your card will have little use, so to quote Janis Joplin, “Get it while you can.”

In my own experience, it was as if I’d received a packet of coupons that excused me from unwanted engagements, compelled strangers to assist me, even a free short haircut–my hairdresser’s way to transition the soon-to-be-hairless toward the Mr. Magoo Do.

Family and friends didn’t hesitate to tangibly express their love. My then-husband, aka the Caregiver, shopped, cooked, and did laundry. When the nurse had said chemo was my friend, she wasn’t kidding!

Cancer picks up where the Do Not Call List leaves off. One mention of my travels through the “C” tunnel sent telemarketers in the opposite direction. It helped to embellish with, “Please don’t call anymore. I just had chemo and I’m busy side-effecting.” Their tone would suddenly turn soft, soothing, as they’d apologize for making my phone ring. Finally, each phone call ended with a blessing for wellness. Sometimes one person’s misfortune is an opportunity that brings out the best in others. I figured, if I could help others be better people, I was happy to assist. No, really, I didn’t mind.

I finally finished chemo and began radiation, multiplied by 33. Everyday was the same until I reached that magic number that signaled the finish line.

That evening, the Caregiver and I went to dinner to celebrate the completion of treatment. I wore my wig, which made me look normal enough to blend in with the masses. As I stood in line, a woman bumped into me, or maybe I bumped into her. I turned to mumble, “Excuse me,” when she flashed me the Stink Eye. I thought, You can’t give me a dirty look. I’m a card-carrying cancer patient! What’s more, I brought my 2010 Cancer Coupon Book!

Indignant, I mentally flipped through the pages of coupons, searching for the one that allowed me to be clutzy in public and bump into people, after which they’d apologize and bestow a blessing for my well-being. I thought I’d brought plenty of coupons. Did they dislodge from the perforations? Sink to the bottom of my purse? Did my chemo-riddled brain leave the one I needed at home?

And then, there it was. The disclaimer. It was buried in the fine print on the back page. A closer glance revealed information that both jarred and elated simultaneously. I couldn’t use my coupons anymore. Not a single one. They had all expired . . . Thank God, they expired.

***

Post Script: Just so you know, I figured out you can still use the Cancer Card following treatment, but sparingly and for a limited time only.

Several months later, I visited my daughter in New York. She, my son and I stood in line to see a play. First come, first served. Wouldn’t you know it – when they got to us, they had only one seat left. My daughter said to the burly guy at the door, “My mom is visiting from California and she just had cancer. Can’t you get us in?” While my hair was growing back, it was still short, wiry and gray, so I felt more comfortable wearing the cap I often wore while bald. I’m sure the accessory helped. The guy said, “Wait here. I’ll see what I can do.”

He brought a woman out, explained how the cancer lady was visiting from California. She didn’t know what to do because they truly didn’t have more than one seat left. She said, “Are you okay with sitting on the floor?” You bet we were. They put blankets down for us to sit on, right by the first row.

Lessons learned: 1) The card comes with a grace period; and 2) It’s even more effective when someone who loves you uses it on your behalf. But it came with a caveat. Big Burly Man said, “We’ll let you in on one condition. You have to tell the people in California that New Yorkers are the friendliest people in the world.” I gave my word. So Californians? Consider yourself told!

 

Mental Illness: Not a Joke #mhblogday

In honor of Mental Health Blogging Day, I’m going to veer from my usual cancer-related posts and tell you a story that left a deep mark on me.I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

Many years ago, I loved a good and gentle man named David. Beautiful inside and out, he was intelligent, talented and had a good sense of humor. He was also schizophrenic. I didn’t know this latter fact when I met him. He’d been high functioning, perhaps the mental-health version of what remission is to cancer.

David had a few bizarre stories of things that had happened to him, but they weren’t so bizarre that I questioned his sanity. He had a keen intellect and we’d have long, wonderful conversations. We also shared a love of the arts. And he was a kind soul. He always kept granola bars or bags of trail mix in his car to give to homeless people or those who begged. He didn’t know their story, but felt if they were there, they had a need.

As time went on, David began his descent into his own personal hell. The outlandish stories now tipped the edge of Wow into full-fledged paranoid delusion. My heart broke for him and I made the mistake of sharing my heartbreak with a co-worker. Hearing about his delusions made her laugh so hard, you’d have thought I’d just told her the funniest joke. “It’s not funny!” I said. “This man is tortured by his own mind and everyone who loves him suffers, too.” She quickly stifled her laugh, apologized and excused herself.

I was so incensed that anyone could laugh at another’s suffering. It reminded me of when I was in the second grade and a classmate was shamed by a teacher. The entire class laughed. Except me. A sensitive child, I watched in horror as my classmate writhed in public humiliation. As I look back, I realize they were children. Not everyone is capable of feeling empathy, but at least adults should have the good sense to resist turning another’s pain into fodder for their entertainment and amusement.

Those who are mentally ill are victims of torture by their own minds. Those who love them suffer considerable pain as they watch the transformation from who they were to the tortured souls they become.

Imagine if the delusions were true – and happening to you. Imagine that a group of influential people with international connections had reason to kill you. They had their people everywhere and even poisoned the hearts of those you loved. No matter how much you loved your family and friends, you were no longer safe. Not even within the privacy of your home because they had your place bugged. There is nowhere to escape the impending doom of torture and possible death because something you did pissed them off. And now they’re using friends and family to get to you.

Can you imagine living like this, perceiving this to be your reality?

One by one, David distanced himself from his friends until there was only me. And then the interrogation was directed toward me and I knew my days as the last person he trusted were slipping away. I tried to encourage him to get help from a professional, but that only hastened his distrust toward me and the inevitable alienation. I’ll never forget the day when I lost my friend forever. I wept.

I hadn’t seen or heard from David until I got a call four years later. He was dead. A car crash. He’d been speeding on the freeway, trying to evade those he perceived were chasing him. A police officer stopped him and issued a speeding ticket. David tried to explain his perilous situation to the officer, that he was being chased by those who wanted him dead. The officer told him to drive to the closest hospital and check himself in, but left him at that point. Ten minutes after the ticket was written, David exited the freeway. He crashed into a tree. Killed instantly. Just 49 years old.

I cried many tears for David, but one thing gave me comfort. He was finally free from suffering as he cast off the body and mind that sadistically taunted him.

Rest in peace, dear one. I could never forget.

Book Review: Getting Past the Fear by Nancy Stordahl

Eileen, 09 May 2014, 2 comments
Categories: Books: Reviews & Recs, Treatment

Many of you are familiar with Nancy Stordahl and her wonderful blog, Nancy’s Point. She also wrote a book entitled, Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy. What’s different about Getting Past the Fear is it’s written from the perspective of the patient. Your oncologist and many excellent books will prepare you from a medical point of view, but very few address the emotional ramifications, which can be overwhelming as many of us know. I wish I’d read this book before my first chemo. I remember being riddled with fear, even terrified to the point of sobbing and shaking at what I perceived to be an agenda of modern-day torture.Chemotherapy books

In Nancy’s introduction, you feel like she holds your hand and conveys the warmth and empathy that says, I understand. I’ve been there, I got through it, and I know you will too. She affirms you and puts you at ease:

” When chemo is your here and now, this can be in some ways more terrifying  than hearing  the words, you have cancer.”

So true!

Nancy gives you permission to feel every ugly feeling you feel. No sugar-coating or downplaying the experience as is often done by others who are too removed. Nancy shares a journal entry she wrote when she first found out she needed chemo. It’s raw, honest, angry, and fearful. It’s been 3-1/2 years since I completed chemo, but I read her entry and felt understood, that someone else had traveled down the same path and felt many of the same emotions that had haunted me.

Nancy offers a list of questions you may want to ask your oncologist.  Besides the typical ones you might find in other books, she also includes ones that she knows are of importance to real patients, such as, How will chemo affect my fertility and sexuality?

The same goes for hair loss. Personally, I’d not read anything that went into all the details of hair loss, including nose hair and how its absence may affect you. The same goes for loss of eyelashes and eyebrows.

Nancy tells you what to expect on the first day of chemo. I wish someone had told me to ask for my anti-nausea prescriptions from the doctor beforehand so they could be filled before that first chemo. I’ll never forget how uncomfortable I was on the way home after chemo, sitting at the pharmacy and waiting for my prescriptions. I felt woozy and mildly nauseous. I needed to be home, not at CVS.

Nancy wrote Getting Past the Fear as a labor of love, and it shows. If you’re interested in purchasing it, click here to go to Nancy’s Point, where you can purchase it as an ebook, a PDF file, or in print. If you’re past treatment, I’m certain you’ll enjoy getting lost in the many resourceful posts at Nancy’s Point.

 

 

Myth of Immortality and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

Eileen, 01 May 2014, 16 comments
Categories: Rocky Road: For the Mind
Tags: ,

It buds in youth, reaching full bloom among the soil of teenage angst. Belief in our own immortality shines brightly even in adulthood. Sure, death happens – to really old people.

Pre-cancer, I made statements like, “I’ll never stop dancing, even when I’m old.” Healthy people often say, “If you just keep [running, working out, etc.], you can avoid disease and enjoy health, even into old age.” Then there’s the one about medicine having reached such breakthroughs that doctors can fix just about anything. We humans love denial. The web of illusion isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  To fear death is to cripple oneself in life.

My cancer diagnosis ripped the veil of illusion, disturbing the ignorant bliss that deceived me into thinking I’d dance ‘til I’m old. For those who are metastatic, that veil is not just ripped; it’s completely torn away leaving nothing but the bare-naked truth that our days are numbered. I’m not metastatic, but even if I never have a recurrence, I am forever changed because I have experienced the fragility of life.

During chemotherapy, I first saw that commercial from the American Cancer Society where someone sang Happy Birthday followed by the message: “Here’s to more birthdays.” I started to weep. It was near my actual birthday and I realized what a miracle it was that I was even around to celebrate. Each time I saw that commercial, and each time I had a birthday, I wept from the miracle of having one. Except last year. It was the first time since cancer that I didn’t get teary-eyed. It’s not that I slipped back into the illusion, but I settled into being at home with life. I may even dance ’til I’m old.

When I think about the cycle of life and death, I imagine a flower all perky and fragrant. From the time it buds until full bloom, it exudes color and vibrancy and life — until someone takes a clipper to it. Its beauty fades quickly, but it’s a quick, merciful death in the kitchen vase.

Many flowers are left alone in the ground to grow old, wither, wilt, curl under into a crispy, dried shell of their former selves. A hand plucks them from the earth. The burial is at 2 p.m. sharp at the trash bin by the curb.

When the flower is in the height of its beauty, basking in the glory of its good looks, does it take its natural beauty for granted? Does it think pretty lasts forever and that it will forever be rooted in solid, earthy soil? Does it go through a crisis when its leaves begin to wilt, when they curl under and aren’t perky like before? When its spine weakens, is it shocked at its loss of vitality and beauty, the gradual siphoning of life?Poppies

Does it gaze with envy at younger, healthier flowers, not recalling that it, too, had its glory days in the sun and that all flowers are destined to go the way of wilting and waste? When the sun sets and the moon casts its glow upon the darkened earth, does the flower exercise its limp petals repetitively, breaking a sweat, in a desperate attempt to firm up?  Does it exfoliate the brown crispness?

We’re like wildflowers that swagger and sway in the April sun when all it takes is a violent wind to silence their boasting.

I love Hollywood deathbed scenes. Typically the dying person is surrounded by loved ones and utters beautiful last words that ooze with love and sage wisdom. Then he/she gracefully expires like a candle snuffed out by a single whispering breath. That would be my preference, but death is rarely dignified.

If I can’t have that, I wish for my last words to be completely meaningless and absurd, such as to die in the middle of correcting another’s grammar, after which I quickly slip away to another universe before I have to endure that person’s profound annoyance. Such last words deftly illustrate the futility of what often passes for life.

The person upon whom I inflict my sage obnoxiousness is likely a nurse. No doubt, she cleans me after my body fails and I lose control of bowel and bladder. My mind remains sharp as the nurse commands me in a voice much like one uses with a two-year-old, but in all fairness, I did just shit my deathbed. “Honey, I need you to lay on your side.” To which I say, “Lie not lay, unless you refer to a lifeless object, which I am not, at least not yet.” I punctuate my last irritating words with a dramatic gasp, sprint from my body before she can reply, and leave the nurse alone to ponder the wisdom of the dying. That and why she incurred student loans for a career in nursing when she could have stayed at Rite-Aid. Because what’s worse? Washing a stranger’s ass or mopping spills on Aisle 13? The nurse speaks into the intercom, “Cadaver clean-up, Room 316” and heads toward the exit. Maybe Rite-Aid is still open.

Them bones, them bones

Eileen, 09 April 2014, 8 comments
Categories: Alternative Health, Trail Mix: For the Body

Cancer treatment leaves a lot of residual effects, but I haven’t heard much talk about the toll it takes on your bone health.  Chemotherapy is particularly harsh on your bones.

Just before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my doctor ordered a bone density scan. I was in my early 50s and am of a small frame, which put me at risk despite otherwise good nutritional and exercise habits. My T-score came in at -2.5, putting me right at the borderline for an osteoporosis diagnosis. While I walked, hiked and danced, I was told that to halt and even reverse the thinning of my bones, I needed to do weight-bearing exercise.

Shortly after, breast cancer reared its lumpy head and it was all I could do to show up for that event, let alone think about thinning bones and exercise. Now three years later, I had another bone density scan and sure enough, my bones furthered their decline. If there’s any one part of your body you don’t want thin, it’s your bones.

As mentioned, chemotherapy takes some brutal potshots at the skeletal structure. Having had Triple Negative breast cancer, I don’t take Aromatase inhibitors or Tamoxifen, but for those of you who do, those drugs are not kind to your bones either. True, they’re likely the lesser of evils and I don’t recommend stopping cancer maintenance drugs, but be aware that if estrogen keeps bones healthy, your bones may suffer from its absence when suppressed through medication or menopause.

If you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe a bisphosphonate, which is medication to strengthen your bones. I personally have issues with this medication. A Google search will show you that there have been adverse reactions in some women. I also have issues with classifying thinning bones as a disease called Osteoporosis. Is aging a disease? I think not, but a natural process that often invites deterioration, including bone thinning. If aging is a disease, then slap the name “Osteoporosis” on mineral loss and thinning of bones and call that a disease too. Now that I got that out of the way, the word “Osteoporosis” is easier to say than “bone thinning.” Wait … who am I kidding? The “O” word has 6 syllables while “bone thinning” has only 3. Still, “osteoporosis” is more fun to say and feels like it must be important. See, they got me. It doesn’t make sense, but oh well. Six-syllables feels like I must have some godawful disease that requires <drumroll> Big Pharma Drugs!

Sorry … I’ll step off the soapbox. Now where was I?

Supplements, yes! All whose opinions and expertise matter agree that supplementing with Calcium and Vitamin D is a good thing to do. Even more important http://i0.wp.com/www.paperspencils.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/skeleton-clip-art-15.jpg?resize=197%2C376 is weight-bearing exercise. It not only can halt further decline, but has been shown to increase bone mass over time with regular exercise.

My Favorite Weight-Bearing Exercises  are hiking and walking, but to strengthen my bones, I’m going to add a weighted vest to my recreational workout. Adding weights is of particular importance for small-boned women without much excess weight. I’m thin in my upper body and have experienced decline despite the fact that I do weight-bearing exercise. This means for me, adding weights is a must.  You can wear a weighted vest or belt or use plain old hand-held weights. And about those vests: a snug fit is essential so you don’t injure yourself or feel uncomfortable. Note that many weighted vests, even the ones that are one-size-fits-all, are still too big for small women, especially if you’re “vertically challenged.” I watched video reviews online only to find more than one woman who is 5’2″ with this problem. I’m 5’1″ so I made sure I bought one that was reviewed well by by those with whom I see eye-to-eye.

Wrist weights are good for the arms, especially with my very favorite exercise of all:

Dance, Dance, DANCE! Do it choreographed or free-form. Throw a dance party. Or go nuts in your living room all by yourself. Not only will you exercise your bones and body, you’ll probably get happy, too. Here’s an instructional video that I personally find inspiring:

YouTube Preview Image

I’m told that people with osteoporosis should avoid yoga, but I also know that there are yoga workouts tailored for those with thin bones. Input from a qualified instructor is a good idea.

A couple of quick links that discuss the connection between osteoporosis and breast cancer include this one at NIH and this one at Livestrong.  A quick Google search will give you lots more information and, of course, your physician. A good website about osteoporosis in general is found here from the University of Washington.

Obviously, this is just a scant introduction to osteoporosis. Mostly, I want to get you thinking about it if you’re at risk so you can take action before it’s a problem.

%d bloggers like this: