"Osteo" What? A Newbie’s Introduction to Bone Health

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Hi. My name is P.J. Hamel, and I’ve been posting over on the breast cancer site for a couple of years now. I went through the whole cancer thing awhile ago—surgery, chemo, radiation, the usuals. Now I’m on anti-cancer drugs. And so far, so good.

    Except there’s this little matter of the DEXA-scan. And what it’s been telling my oncologist for the past year or so. Which is that my bone density is declining. Kind of precipitously. Which brings me to this new part of HealthCentral’s site. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I want to be here. I think I’d rather stick with breast cancer, thank you very much.

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    But now that I’m here—welcome to your world, huh? My doc says I’m slipping into osteopenia. Now there’s a word I’d never heard of. Osteoporosis—yeah, it’s what they’re advertising in those magazine ads with the good-looking older women smiling and kind of gadding around. You know, the slim ones with the stylish clothes and the freshly styled gray hair, getting ready to go play a few quick sets of tennis at the club. I always skip right over those ads—Boniva! Evista!—in favor of catching up on the latest news about Barack and Michelle.

    But all of a sudden, I’m paying attention. I’m reading that tiny little type on the back side of the page. You know, where they tell you all the crummy side effects you might get from these drugs. Migraines, nausea, weight gain (does EVERYTHING in this life make you gain weight?!), conjunctivitis, for crying out loud. A hard lesson I learned with breast cancer is that the treatment is MUCH rougher than the disease. Is that true with osteoporosis, too? If so, I’m not sure I’m ready to go through two cures in tandem.

    But then again, I don’t want to become my grandmother, all hunched over and having to peer up at the world through permanently downcast eyes due to her “widow’s hump.” I don’t like the scary terms I’m hearing from the bone health specialist at the hospital. Things like “spinal fracture.” And “damage to the femoral neck.” We’ve already run down the list of possible lifestyle improvements; unfortunately, I’ve been lifting weights and watching my diet for years, and I exercise daily. I drink skim milk. Enjoy low-fat cheese. Take my calcium and vitamin D3 and magnesium supplements.

    And yet, my bones are losing their density as though I were 14 years old… and apparently this is one instance where having the body of a 14-year-old isn’t good, since 14-year-olds are also growing their bones at a rapid rate. And, at 55 years old, my bones are done growing.

    In fact, they’re shrinking.

    So what’s next? Quit riding my bike for fear of falling? Creep down the icy winter sidewalks here in New Hampshire like an old lady afraid of breaking something? Not me. Please, God. I’m too young to be old.

    Guess I’d better bone up (HA) on this osteoporosis stuff. I’ll be checking back with you regularly. I’ll let you know if the liquid calcium I’ll be taking for the next 2 months is enough to keep me off those osteo drugs. And you can let me know your experiences with the o-disease, too. OK?

  • Till then—yours in bone health,

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Published On: August 22, 2008