Of course, you didn’t tell your sister that her taste in dresses was somewhat lacking. And you probably told your mom you’d skip the cold remedy, but she ignored you and plopped the little cup of icky liquid in front of you anyway and stood there, arms akimbo, waiting to make sure you drank it. There are times when your choices are limited to bad and worse, but you have to choose anyway. That’s where I find myself heading now.
Every 2 years, since treatment, I’ve gotten a DEXA scan to track my bone density. Tons of you out there do this as part of your post-cancer routine. DEXA scans are recommended for premenopausal women in early menopause because of breast cancer treatment; and postmenopausal women of any age who take aromatase inhibitors (Arimidex, Femara, or Aromasin). They’re also recommended for all women over age 65. So if you find yourself in any of these groups, you’re probably familiar with the DEXA machine. It measures the bone density (read: strength) in a certain part of your spine, and in one hip. Your doctor watches these results over time, to see if your bones are becoming less dense: weaker, more likely to fracture, trending towards osteoporosis, that unwanted aside effect of aging that as women, not just cancer survivors, we ALL try to avoid.
I had my every-other-year DEXA scan recently, part of a regular 6-month cancer check-in. And my usually upbeat, cheerful oncologist came in and said, “Hey! Look at my face. See this frown?” That was his way of introducing bad news into our ordinarily casual topics, things we discuss as he peers into and taps and prods me (the latest pies each of us has enjoyed; the challenges of raising teenage daughters). Dr. Schwartz handed me the printed results of my DEXA scan, and carefully walked me through the jumble of X-ray pictures and charts and percentages. Bottom line: my bones are slowly being destroyed. Probably by the aromatase inhibitor I’m taking to fend off a cancer recurrence.
He said we should do some more tests before deciding on a course of action. He asked if I was taking a daily dose of 800IU vitamin D (yes); if I was exercising (yes, every day, including lifting weights twice a week). We discussed sunlight (an important source of vitamin D), and calcium. It appears I’m doing everything right; it’s just the result that’s wrong.