Written a year and a half ago:
I‘m struggling with the unexpected diagnosis (following my first bone density scan) of severe osteoporosis. Not the milder osteopenia. Not just the beginning … not just a warning. But severe and dangerous osteoporosis! How did this happen?!
I’ve been wandering about imagining myself crumbling. Recalling stories of a woman doing nothing more than standing at the kitchen sink when an ankle cracked; another of my mother noting one of her saleswoman standing next to a rack of clothes one minute and disappearing … collapsed the next, a third, stepping off a curb and … hip crumbling. My wiser self knows to quickly erase those images and replace them with those of lithe yogis, dancers, and athletes — strong and resilient women. Like me when Philip and I climbed the mountain in the photo above. But without even the defense of caffeine (caffeine, I read leaches 150 mg of calcium with each cup of coffee, so I’ve gone cold turkey on that), my spirits, as well as my energy, are somewhere down around my ankles.
My doctor wants me to start taking a drug called Fosamax asap. Having steered towards natural healing and away from doctors and conventional medicine all these years, the idea of being on a pharmaceutical (For the next 5 years, she says without flinching!) is more than a little unnerving. And the reported possible side-effects of Fosamax are horrifying. Close to home, my mother had a terrible reaction: the upper palate of her mouth began to fall down! The dentist panicked and immediately sent her to her doctor. “Off Fosamax!” was the doctor’s instant response.
The wise part of me says, Seek holistic opinions and options. The scared-to-death part wants to run to the pharmacy and take the first bottle all at once. And the largest part just wants to lie down (again and again) and disappear into sleep. By 9:30 am today and yesterday, my eyes were rolling up in my head, my head besieged by fog and longing to escape fear.
One friend responded immediately, “Sleep,” she said. “You’re in shock.” And much to my surprise and further confusion, every woman I speak to has intense feelings about this. One says, “You must take the drug; the risk is too great not to.” Another says, “Absolutely no to the drug.” (I’m sure Philip would be in the latter camp.) So … I’m feeling my way through. I bought the drug (fueled by panic last night) and took the first tablet this morning … much to my horror. You only take it once a week, so I have all week to consult natural healers and decide if I want to continue. Will talk to a nutritionist, two knowledgeable women I often consult at Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, my new physical therapist who’s been working with me for continuing back pain. (My doctor says the back pain is not related to osteoporosis, but I find it curious that the two places the scan shows the worst numbers are the two places that have been most troubling during this past year: 1. lower back and 2. right hip. It seems to me there’s a connection, but she says osteoporosis is a silent condition. You don’t feel symptoms … until you break or fracture … or crumble?! Oh my god!)
I have been thinking about the back and hip pain symbolically. What have I put behind me, not wanted to see? (Philip’s death. My widowhood. Those are good for starters.) What burdens have I carried that have been too heavy? (Well, that’s fairly obvious considering the last months … years with Philip.) Do I feel unsupported? (Yes. Philip was what he was … so dependent in the end but also a lifetime’s partner and support.) What frightens or constricts my willingness to step forward freely? (Where am I going? And how am I to proceed without him?) And now, asking about this awful, bone-thinning condition – how have I become inwardly brittle, friable, fragile? Am I ready to break, crumble, collapse into small pieces emotionally?
The natural remedies proposed for osteoporosis include adding more calcium-rich foods and supplements. Also, other vitamins (including K-2 and D-3), minerals (including boron and something called strontium which sounds like some kind of strength from a far planet). I’m also told to do weight-bearing exercise and to move more, in general. How does a writer keep moving?
Life certainly can throw wrecking balls. And yet somehow — whether it’s health issues, friends moving away, or the death of our favorite person in all the world … life and I carry on. It’s awful and awesome.
Written today, July 15, 2019:
I’ve just found the above tucked away in a folder with potential blog posts. I wonder why I didn’t post it at the time. Too tired from the sound of it. Too frightened. I am still surprised to learn how many friends also have the osteoporosis diagnosis. (The International Osteoporosis Foundation says one in four women over 50 in North America have it.) Another thing we don’t talk about? Why is that? But today, still standing … not having crumbled … I think it’s important … Think we must talk about it for younger women friends who may face it a few years down the road.
Well, I am still standing. I threw that bottle of Fosamax out the day after I wrote the above. My doctor – a woman and a generally not over-reactive one – was and still is convinced there is no harm and much help in the drug. Every woman friend (but one who doesn’t have the dread diagnosis and who trusts conventional medicine more than I do), says, “No to Fosamax!” Even my dentist says, “Try every alternative before taking that drug. And then don’t take it!” I’ve decided to try every natural approach first. After all, I reasoned (when reasoning power returned), even after my mother had multiple falls in her last months of life, she never broke or crumbled.
So, what am I doing? Taking a class called Strong Women; Strong Bones where we move and use weights. Walking for 45 minutes to an hour daily. Lifting weights and doing my own body-weight-bearing exercises most days. Taking a natural supplement called Algae Cal Bone Builder Pack that combines plant-based, absorbable calcium, strontium and all the other minerals and vitamins believed to build and maintain bone strength and quality. (This product, by the way, comes with a 7-year money-back guarantee! They are that confident in its effectiveness.) I also make it a point to eat lots of green leafy vegetables (and go back and forth between my conflicting vegan principles versus a hankering for plain Greek yogurt and occasional cheeses … sigh …).
I will take a second Dexa-Scan (bone density scan) in January (giving this natural approach two years) and see what’s what. Improvement? No worse? One can but hope. And as with grief, one can but carry on.
My love, strength, and resilience to all.