The ubiquitous pink products for Breast Cancer Awareness Month are a visible reminder that women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing invasive breast cancer. Whether I’m tweeting about the importance of early detection or raising funds for a cure, I remember the friends that I have lost to breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has its critics. Breast Cancer Action, which coined the term “pink-washing,” warns consumers: “Any company can put a pink ribbon on its products. The widely recognized pink ribbon symbol is not regulated by any agency and does not necessarily mean it effectively combats the breast cancer epidemic.” I see their point, but I can’t help wishing that every disease had such an effective awareness campaign.
My grandmother lived for years with an invisible illness. She didn’t feel her bones growing weaker until they broke, and the aches and pains she felt in her joints were dismissed as just a normal part of old age. Arthritis and osteoporosis took her from me long before she actually died.
For as long as I can remember, many of the women in my family have lived out the later part of their lives dealing with the pain of arthritis and broken bones due to osteoporosis. Even though arthritis and osteoporosis aren’t fatal, these diseases can be debilitating and a huge impact on quality of life. Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, impacting 1 in 5 adults. About half of all women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. These broken bones can be deadly. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 20% of seniors who break a hip die within one year from problems related to the broken bone or the surgery to repair it. Others, like my grandmother, require nursing care for the remainder of their lives.
As I participated in World Arthritis Day (October 12th) and World Osteoporosis Day (October 20th) activities this month, I learned that, while there is no cure, there are many actions I can take to slow the progression of these diseases given my genetic predisposition to them both. Arthritis and osteoporosis are often dismissed as an “old person’s disease,” which is one reason you are less likely to read about it on sites for moms. But I’m in my thirties and have the beginning signs of arthritis. Over the past month, I spoke to many mom bloggers who share my experiences and have similar family histories.
Fightarthritispain.org offers information about prevention (for me) as well as tips about safe exercises to perform and healthful habits to improve mobility that I was able to share with my mother. Arthritis is just one of several risk factors that can contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Your family history and lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, little physical activity and low levels of calcium and vitamin D also play an important role.
By making some lifestyle changes, adults can decrease the severity of these diseases or help prevent them entirely. I missed out on precious time with my grandmother as a result of arthritis and osteoporosis. I don’t want my mother to miss special moments in my children’s lives due to these diseases, nor am I willing to accept broken bones and joint pain as an inevitable part of age.
I came up with a personal action plan for myself to follow in order to get myself on the right track when it comes to bone and joint health:
1. Talk to my mother about arthritis and osteoporosis in our family.
2. Eating a healthy, clean diet, rich in vegetables and protein and lower in carbohydrates.
3. Exercise! Even if it’s a brisk 15 minute walk, every little bit helps.
4. Get a check-up with my doctor to assess my bone and joint health status.
This plan isn’t easy, but my mother agreed to participate too. We’re going to hold each other accountable because we both want to be healthy and able to make many more memories with my children. What would your personal action plan look like?