Monday, June 1, 2015

Dem Bones

Hi! It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog. I know that as time goes on, I feel like I move away from the cancer scene more and more--or at least, I would like to. When people see me, or they hear for the first time that I am a cancer survivor, they are surprised and comment on how healthy I look. They ask me how long I've been in remission (7 years and counting) and say how lucky I am to have "beaten" cancer. This is true. I am lucky. But what people don't realize that beating cancer entails having to endure life-long side effects, some of which are not anticipated or paid attention to much, especially when it comes to young adults. For example, even though I am in remission, I will deal with lymphedema, chronic fatigue and pain, and the hardening of radiated tissue for the rest of my life. But it's okay because I'm still here.

I had my 11th (?) surgery on Friday, May 22nd. Originally, I had gone to the orthopaedic surgeon to deal with my bunions, with which I was born. When I was a teenager, I had my right foot operated on, but the bunions (on both sides of my foot) grew back. Now that I'm older, the pain has been getting worse, especially since I also have arthritis. So a few months ago, I got to see a surgeon about my foot issues. Turns out, not only were the bunions a problem, but it seemed that my bones were shrinking, or that's how I understood it in my non-medical brain. The surgeon said that there was a gap between bones on the top of my foot, and that she would have to graft bone from below my knee and fuse it onto my foot to fix the gap. In addition, she'd have to insert a titanium rod into my calf to lengthen the tendon or something. Anyway, a fuck-tonne was going to be done to my left leg and foot (the right foot will be dealt with later, as the arthritis in it is bad and surgery would cause more chronic pain).

After my surgery, the surgeon told me that she was floored by how soft my bones are. She said that I have the bones of a 60 year old, that she wasn't expecting to see such deterioration. I asked her if my chemo had something to do with it, and she said maybe. But what was supposed to have taken 90 minutes for the operation took almost three and a half hours because the surgery was complicated by my soft bones.

When I saw my nurse practitioner, who also works at the cancer agency, a week later, and explained to her about the surgery and my bones, she was perplexed. She said that it's possible that the chemo could weaken the bones, but not to that degree. And I did just have my ovaries removed in December, but still, would my bones be that bad that fast? I take all the right amounts of calcium and vitamin D supplements and have been for years. I got a requisition to get a bone mass density screening done to see if I need to go on a bisphosphonate, a class of drugs for osteoporosis patients. And I'm not even 40 years old yet!

Coincidentally, as I left the doctor's office, I was checking Facebook and right there on my newsfeed was this article, posted by someone in the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation group: This article basically describes how the particular breast cancer I had, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, causes holes to form in bones in order to produce a fertile ground for metastasis! And this is what floored me. For years during and after treatment, I'd been told that chemo could possibly thin my bones, that I would have to take extra calcium and Vitamin D to prevent the thinning. But this is the first time that I had heard that the cancer cells are actually forming holes in the bones to spread the cancer. I guess this is the problem with being "discharged" once you're in remission--there's little vigilance in what happens to you once the primary cancer is treated.

I'm lucky that I had this surgery. I'm lucky that I saw this article minutes after I talked to my doctor about my bones. I now have a plan to take bisphosphonates to try to slow down or stop this loss of bone mass and stop cancer's plan to make my bones its own nest for more cancer. And I'm lucky that I can tell other breast cancer patients and survivors my story--look into getting your bone density screened and talk to your oncologist or general practitioner about bisphosphonates, especially if you've had Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Hopefully there's still time to turn back the clock on these old bones.

1 comment:

Kelly Thorarinson said...

Hi Brandy,
Just thought I'd look at your posting. I think it's great that you are creating a voice for young people post treatment. This is one of the tricky things -that with more survivorship (for lack of a better term) and not so much research on post-cancer treatment life (or even examples of how to live post treatment) there is a gap, to say the least... and I suspect that the oncology world tend to go along the lines of: you no long have evidence of disease so you are all good, as I have read :the side effects and risks outweigh he immediate course of treatment". Also, since in general there is less focus on specifically young people, it seems there is not a lot of research about the long term effects of cancer treatment when done as a young person.
Oh Yes, BTW, I never did thank you for sending me a copy of your book - which was a good read, and I really appreciated how you put yourself out in print. If you find yourself in Toronto, let me know.