Last week, I went for a post-chemotherapy bone density scan. At 42, active, regaining stamina, and dutifully taking my vitamins, why would I need to worry about my bones, especially after surviving breast cancer and chemotherapy, you ask? Well, please allow me to explain.
As you may recall, my form of FBC (f-bomb breast cancer) was estrogen positive. In other words, my form of FBC needed estrogen to grow and proliferate. As a result, my treatment aimed to get rid of the estrogen in my body. Now, getting rid of the estrogen in my body was a Silver Lining, but the thing of it is that estrogen is also the hormone that helps build up and protect your bones.
So, after having been (and continuing to be) without estrogen, my doctor wanted to see how my bones have held up. Go figure. I walked into to my appointment and looked at yet another exam table and thought, REALLY? Again? Sometimes FBC just ticks me off in a big way. No other 42 year-old women I know have to get bone scans. I mean, REALLY.
Upon entering, the technician asked me, “Are you premenopausal?””
I said, No. I’m in menopause.
“Why?” she asked.
Because I had estrogen + breast cancer (I refrained from dropping the f-bomb) that put me into menopause, I said.
“But that’s not real menopause,” she replied at which point my face turned instantly purple.
Well, hmmm, I said. I could fry an egg on my bald head and can still fry an egg on my bare stomach during hot flashes. Menopause – in whatever form it comes – is menopause, I said with a furiously shaking voice.
Now, I know that she didn’t intend or mean any harm, which is what prevented me from going all FBC on her. After I left, I thought about the injustice of judging levels of FBC and their treatment side effects.
I know lots of people who say, “She had breast cancer and only had to have a lumpectomy and radiation.” It’s never (ever!) a good idea to put “only” in front of treatment for any kind of cancer.
The bone density test is a painless and takes less than 15 minutes. The machine scanned my sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity) and my left hip because these are the first places where of loss of bone density will appear.
My test results showed osteopenia in my hip, which means that my bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than normal ideal BMD but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. In talking with my doctor, he suggested one of two options: 1) take a bisphosphonate (e.g., Fosamax, Actonel) which would be an aggressive approach or 2) take vitamin D and calcium supplements (to prevent further loss from occurring) and check again in a year. We both agreed that #2 is the best option for me.
In the grand scheme of things, this result was a Silver Lining for which I am incredibly grateful!
If you’ve recently finished chemotherapy for breast cancer, you might want to ask your family doctor or your oncologist about a bone density scan. It’s worth a discussion.