So, here we are five years post-diagnosis. It's been four full years of no medications, no surgeries, no scans; nothing but regular checkups. Now, I can only speak from my experience, but it seems like the high of hearing the words "no discernable masses" and "no cancer cells in your lymph nodes" doesn't last as long as the fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Now, I cannot say that the other shoe has dropped, per se. But, it seems fair to say that someone definitely chucked a boot at my head.
Because chemotherapy and the removal of my ovaries put me into early menopause, I was at risk for osteoporosis. This is a thing that I knew, but really thought wouldn't be an issue. I am young, I eat healthy, I work out, I feel strong, etc. Clearly I haven't learned my lesson that sometimes you can do everything right and still have it turn out all wrong.
My oncologist ordered a bone density scan just to be sure and wouldn't you know it, here I am at 37 years old with full-fledged osteoporosis. Yep. Osteoporosis.
I am a cancer survivor. I went through hell and it sucked and I am so glad that chapter of my story has been completed. But here's the thing; it doesn't go away. You never get to stop thinking about it and you never get to let your guard down. You don't just get to wipe your hands clean, exhale and say "done". There's always something else around the corner, or so it seems.
The chemo screwed with the lining of my stomach and now I'm lactose sensitive. The "chemo-brain" hasn't totally lifted for me and I struggle with short term memory...and now I have osteoporosis. All before the age of 40.
Want to know what else is awesome? I will now get a shot every six months for the next five years to manage my osteoporosis, and take calcium pills daily. Those shots with my insurance are over $500 a pop. Without insurance? We'd be looking at over $2,5000 a pop. OUTRAGEOUS! I am so grateful to have an employer with great benefits, but my heart is aching for the women out there who don't have access to these medicines, or those who just can't afford them. I hate to think about what it must be like to choose between groceries and medicine for a disease like osteoporosis.
Side note: I think it's interesting the way these shots work is that the medicine pulls calcium from your bloodstream and essentially re-distributes it into your bones. Super cool in theory, but in reality it hurts. Like, really hurts. All over. For days. Admittedly, it's better than the alternative and I'll suck it up for the three days twice a year. But it doesn't change the fact that I wish I didn't have to do it.
Please understand, I don't tell you all of this to have you join my pity party. I tell you all of this because I so desperately want you to do monthly breast self exams, to get your mammograms, talk with your family about health history, call your insurance and ask what types of scans or preventative measures they cover (things like mammograms or breast ultrasounds), talk with your doctor about uncomfortable topics, and don't be afraid to look into free or low-cost community resources if you don't currently have health insurance. I tell you these things so you will stay vigilant, advocate for yourself, and prevent what you can because cancer comes with a hefty price tag in more ways than one.
|Left: normal bone, right: osteoporotic bone; Source: International Osteoporosis Foundation: https://www.iofbonehealth.org/what-is-osteoporosis|