Let’s Talk Bones

Posted on: February 8th, 2016 by

A few weeks ago found me en route to Florida again, this time for an extended weekend. While I wish I could say the weather and a relaxing vacation were beckoning, I came to the subtropics to comfort my mother, visit my father in the rehabilitation center, and meet with rehab staff.

As you know, my father broke a hip. He has osteoporosis and had fallen out of bed onto a carpeted floor. While my brother and I were in Florida together a couple of weeks before my latest visit alone, we were industrious — we ordered and installed various home equipment for my dad for when he returned home to recover even more from the surgery. Such equipment included a shower seat and a guardrail on the bed.

When my dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery, I asked the charge nurse what his prognosis might be. (I missed the doctor who stopped by earlier.) She gazed through me and gave the same rote answer I’m sure she gives everyone, “If he works hard in rehab and builds up his strength, that is key. People who do this tend to do well.”

Yes, but still I wondered, how many people actually do this? I could read between the lines on her face that he was not going to do well.

At rehab, the occupational therapist taught us the best ways for my dad to move in order to heal and how to move when he is at home.

We anticipated that he would eventually make a full recovery.

Then, as my brother and I continued to get and assemble the proper home equipment for our dad, I realized that perhaps the very act of assembling the equipment was our way of holding onto hope that he would make a slow-but-full recovery.

We hoped he would be able to walk again. Prior to the fall, he and my mom were ballroom dancing two to three times a week and, in their younger days, won awards for their dancing.

I now realize that their ballroom dancing days are over. And perhaps his walking days. He is wheelchair-bound, with dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He is now home with aides there to help for much of the day. My mom is just living one day at a time, coping the best she can. Therapists are working hard with my dad, but things are not going so well. One doctor said the bone break and surgery “really set him back.”

I’ll say.


A few weeks before my dad’s fall, my mother was diagnosed with osteoporosis, with 50 percent bone loss. She had been so involved taking care of my dad these last few years, that she forgot to take care of herself and complement dancing with other bone-strengthening exercises, although that’s not all to the story. I think she has a genetic predisposition to the condition.

Luckily, she is now exercising and taking better care of herself.

I worry about her falling, too.


My latest dexa scan this winter showed me still stuck in osteopenia land. Oddly, this is good news. My bone density hasn’t worsened in two years. But I know osteoporosis is an unwelcome next-door neighbor, thanks to the collateral damage of cancer treatments and early menopause.

Add the genetic osteoporosis component, and my bone health is hanging by a thread.

When I first thought about possibly having osteoporosis in the future, I was angry. And afraid. I still am, actually. Bad gene pool, bad chemo pool. I remember having had slight bone fractures over these post-cancer years, and I wonder if they were due to low bone density.

Sadly, it seems I will always have osteopenia. But I will fight my hardest against getting osteoporosis. I’ve heard and seen too much about this condition to just not try to fight back.

I must make adjustments to my diet and be more vigilant about eating calcium-rich foods, balanced by calcium and Vitamin D supplements. Weight bearing exercise is key. This includes walking and lifting weights. I’ve started a new exercise regime, and I’m hoping it pays off.

In the meantime, my brother and I will try to help my parents out as much as we can long distance. I’m reassured that today my brother and his family are at my parents’ house to help out in any way they can.

In the meantime, I will continue to take preventive actions. And I will hopefully break the family osteoporosis legacy.

Palm trees close up

Have cancer treatments adversely affected your bone density?

Do you have any tips to increase bone density?

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13 Responses to Let’s Talk Bones

  1. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,

    This is something I have not experienced. Yet. I have never done a bone density test. They want to wait a few more years with me because I am still in my 30’s (still taking tamoxifen). Now, I have been dealing with hip pains since last November (left side). They took an xray and it was clear. Started PT for 5 weeks and nothing has changed. I go for an MRI of my pelvis tomorrow (sigh). This will determine if my pain is related to bones, ligaments, joints, tissue, BC, etc. Not fun! I suspect these pains might be related to Tamoxifen and I am holding on to that until I get those results.

    I am sorry about your dad. Genetics is so complicated. I’ve often wished I can change mine (for both medical and non-medical reasons). It is great that you’re doing your best to prevent any complications in the future. As if cancer wasn’t enough for us to deal with. All you can do is have a balanced diet and exercise. There’s always that chance you might not go through this condition.

    Do you see a nutritionist? Wondering if they can help you put a plan together.

    I wish you and your family good luck. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Rebecca, I’m so sorry you are in pain. An MRI is definitely not fun, and pain is just awful. Period. I hope you are on the mend soon.

      Yes, genetics is a difficult thing. Since cancer, I think I’ve been very angry about the treatment-caused effects on my body, but I’ve been angry about the genetic component. I’ve tried so hard throughout my entire life to take care of myself, yet to get cancer and all these other problems. Sheesh!

      I am thinking about going to a nutritionist. It’s a good idea.

      Thank you for your comment and well wishes.

    • Cathy had this to say about that:

      Rebecca – I have had serious left hip pain since I started taking exemestane. I had an x ray, which showed a slight joint separation, and then a bone scan, which showed arthritis in my back, and nothing in my left hip. My oncologist says he is certain it is from the exemestane, and I have read enough to think that is probably true. I figure all I can do is keep moving.
      Best of luck with your MRI!

      • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

        Thank you, Cathy, for your response. I’m sorry you’ve been in pain. When I was on exemestane for about two years, I was in agony. My bones hurt so much! My oncologist took me off the medication, and miraculously, the pain stopped. I agree that exemestane wreaks havoc on the bones.

        Keep moving!

      • Rebecca had this to say about that:

        Cathy, thank you so much. I’ve been in tears all morning — scared out of my mind. I haven’t gotten my results yet but I am feeling more anxious than ever before! I hope it is just the Tamoxifen, which I am totally fine with. Anything but that other evil thing. Thank you for your words. xoxo

        • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

          Rebecca, I wish that medical personnel figured out how stressful the waiting game is for someone who has had cancer. Results should be delivered as soon as possible. I’m so sorry you are so scared; believe me, I’ve been there. I cannot even count the number of times I stressed over medical tests.

          Sending you hugs and praying for good news.

  2. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Oh, Beth…helping people deal with osteoporosis is one of my clinical specialties. You are doing all the right things to head it off, and those things really do make a difference. I’m sorry that your parents, despite ballroom dancing, were not able to head it off. I hope they are both able to take some bone-building meds, because they really do help, even now. xoxo, Kathi

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Kathi,

      I’m so glad to hear that my plan for bone wellness seems sound. You must see so many heartbreaking cases of people with this condition.

      I was on Fosamax for awhile, and I think it helped me. My mom is supposed to be taking it, and she started, but she’s being difficult, telling me it won’t make a difference. I keep telling her that it can work and that it worked for me. But she’s not buying it. The good thing is that she’s taking the pill anyway.

      Thanks you so much.

  3. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    This is such an important topic. I’m really sorry about your dad’s situation. And of course, how it impacts your mom and you and your brother, too, of course. Hopefully he will continue to improve.

    My bone health has taken a hit since cancer. When I first learned about this, I was so mad because my bone health was stellar before cancer. Oncologist #4 and I actually parted ways, due in some part, to this very issue. My present onc is closely monitoring things, and so far I am not on other meds other than a hefty Vit D supplement. I was on calcium, but then my calcium levels rose too much. Ugh… hate how everything gets so complicated. Genetics certainly comes into play, as you know. Osteoporosis is in my family too. Like you, I’m working hard to fit more movement into each day and do what I can to avoid further bone deterioration. I am hoping my bone health can remain stable. Hope yours does too. Thanks for this important post. xx

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thanks so much, as always, for your support. It’s a really difficult time for our family now.

      While there’s a genetic component, I know my bones suffered because of cancer treatment. I’m sorry your bone health has been compromised by cancer treatments. This really sucks: to go from great bone health to less-than-stellar bone health.

      I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this crap. As if getting cancer wasn’t enough. I am hoping and praying for good bone health for you.

  4. Elissa Malcohn had this to say about that:

    First, (((Hugs))) to you all.

    My dexa scan last year showed osteopenia in my right hip (left hip and spine are normal). At first I blamed anastrazole, but then I realized that my baseline scan (done at another facility) didn’t include my right hip. For all I know, that osteopenia might have existed pre-dx.

    Through another member at WhatNext.com, I learned about the Better Bones and Balance program from Oregon State U. I got their DVD and have been doing their workouts in a weighted vest. A friend in my local BC support group was able to reverse her osteoporosis through (non-BBB) weight-bearing and resistance exercises.

    The BBB program is at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/physicalactivity/bbb/

    I currently have to refrain from heavy lifting, including my weighted vest, due to another cancer-related complication. My port had caused a blood clot, which is currently being treated. I look forward to the day when I can return to my routine.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you for the link to this program, Elissa. I will definitely be checking into this.

      I really appreciate it. I’m sorry you are struggling with bone health, and I’m sorry that you had the complication from your port.


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