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.”
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.
Have cancer treatments adversely affected your bone density?
Do you have any tips to increase bone density?