Strong Bones: Elizabeth Cohen and Pam Wilson

Ever think about your bones? Elizabeth and Pam talk about their osteoporosis diagnosis and how it’s changed their lives. Listen to our StoryCorps interview click READ MORE and then click here: https://archive.storycorps.org/interviews/strong-bones-elizabeth-and-pam/

In 2021 I received a phone call after a baseline bone density test from my OB/GYN Dr. Jennifer Smith.

“This is a surprise to me. Your bone density results came back, and you have osteoporosis,” she said to a very surprised me.

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“Well, you have a lot of the characteristics, but it’s still a surprise at your age.”

I was speechless. And not expecting this at all. I had all but forgotten that I went for the screening.

“What happens now?” I asked, thinking, ugh! One more thing I have to think about, figure out and throw energy at.

I have always worked-out. Throughout the years I have danced, lifted weights, walked, hiked, biked, and practiced yoga. You name it and I’ve tried it. Low impact, high impact. Working out has been part of my life forever. It helps me center myself, feel healthy and get through the days. I love to work-out.

So, of all the conditions I might have…. osteoporosis was the very last thing I expected to hear. It wasn’t even osteopenia. It was full-blown osteoporosis. At age 61, I was definitely in the age-range, even though I still think I’m 49.

Dr. Smith prescribed adding more calcium but not too much to a healthy diet. I smiled at this and said, “Great! I’ll eat ice cream!”

She also prescribed and ordered an infusion because I couldn’t tolerate the oral medication.

 

Since I had no idea what to expect, it made it scarier and bigger than it needed to be. The Infusion Center at Missouri Baptist is set up for nervous first-time patients and helped me get through that first infusion. They suggest you drink more water than you can imagine the day before and the day of. And take Tylenol.

I followed their instructions, but that first infusion floored me. Took me down for 48 hours. I was exhausted, couldn’t get off my couch and was concerned about the aftermath. Dr. Smith said side effects usually last about 24 hours and if I didn’t feel better by the next day to let her know.

By the second day, I was back to myself! The idea is that the infusion will take the calcium out of your blood and deposit it into your bones.

Mentioning this to friends, it turns out quite a few of my friends have either osteopenia or osteoporosis. Most had received the infusion. Some took oral meds and those with osteopenia were being closely monitored.

I was also instructed not to run or jump…. I have never been a runner and stopped jumping years ago (wanted to preserve my bladder and keep it in place).

Another part of my on-going prevention: weight-bearing exercises two times a week. I’ve included Pilates, yoga, walking, hiking, and dancing as well. As a bonus, I now have kick-ass biceps. (ask and I am happy to show you!)

The diagnosis came in the summer of 2021, the infusion in August. That October I started playing pickleball and by December my ankle hurt to the point that I couldn’t touch it. Dr. Doogie Howser, the orthopedic surgeon at the Washington University/Barned Jewish Orthopedic Injury Clinic took one look at my ankle, heard that I had osteoporosis and said, “No more pickleball for you,.” That wasn’t even the worst news. I had to wear a tall boot for 8 weeks and couldn’t work-out.

Needless to say, I might love pickleball, but I retired my racquet.

A few months later, I overheard Elizabeth Cohen speaking to Diane Klenke, our Pilates instructor. She was telling Diane she had just been diagnosed with osteoporosis. I shared with Elizabeth that I, too, had been diagnosed.

Over the last few years, Elizabeth and I have traded tips and stories and found ourselves supporting one another through our osteoporosis journey. We were both caught by surprise, and both went through the five stages of grief. We also both got mad at the diagnosis and wondered how fragile our bodies were.

Wondering if we could trust our bodies ever again (we speak about this in the above interview).

I’ve had three infusions in my five-year protocol. My most recent infusion was at Missouri Baptist and once again the nurses and staff were kind, gentle and yes, even made me laugh. I barely felt the needle going in! And Julia taught me a new way to take selfies. While it’s not my favorite activity, they did make it less scary.

Elizabeth is half-way through her protocol, and she gets infusions every six months, and tolerates them well.

According to Dr. Smith, after five years we give my body a rest and let the bones turn over. Just the thought of that makes me wonder at the miracle of modern medicine.

And in good news that once again surprised both Dr. Smith and me…my most recent bone density scan came back and indicated that my osteoporosis had dropped a level to osteopenia! When she called, Dr. Smith said, “This almost never happens!” Could it be the ice cream?!!!

Since our diagnosis,’ more instructors at Lifetime Fitness in West St. Louis County, where Elizabeth and I work-out have incorporated osteoporosis-specific exercises in their classes as well as sharing what they are learning. For example, in Pilates I cannot ever “roll like a ball.” It’s one of 999 Pilates exercises, so there are plenty of others I can do. Through my own research and trial and error I have also figured out what feels okay in my body; I am actively listening to my body most of the time. (It still thinks ice cream is a cure all.)

Read on to discover how the educated, experienced, and caring instructors at Lifetime Fitness in West County integrate exercises and expertise into their classes. Thank you to veteran instructors Diane Klenke, Jennifer Cooper, and Christi Raenke Gleason for taking these extra steps to keep us safe and moving!

NOTE: before starting ANY exercise program-speak with your doctor and medical practitioner! I have had lengthy conversations with my OB, primary care, orthopedic doctors and two physical therapists!

Diane Klenke, a Pilates, and Arora instructor for over thirty years and certified in AFFA, American Red Cross and Stott Pilates told me this about how she integrates her knowledge and thirty-plus years of expertise into the group fitness classes she teaches:

“Since most of my participants in class are women close to menopause or past menopause, unfortunately a large percentage of them will either have osteopenia or osteoporosis. Therefore, in knowing that I took continuing education years ago which concentrated on midlife fitness for women. A majority of the workshop was all about bone density, and what to do and what not to do for women suffering with that disease. It was striking to hear the statistics and long-term effects of having fragile bones. Keeping our fitness certifications current requires us to take a certain number of hours of continuing education every year. I’ve done quite a few regarding bone density and what exercises are recommended and which ones are not.”

Diane often suggests modifications for those of us who have bone density issues, osteoporosis, or any other concerns. Speaking personally, this is much appreciated. I want to keep up in class AND honor what my body can and cannot do.

Diane teaches Pilates, Arora strength and cardio classes, Stretched and Balanced classes and Arora Fit classes. And yes, she always has this smile.

Jennifer Cooper has been teaching yoga for 17 years and has a 200 YET yoga certification. Her certifications also include yoga for Self-Regulation and Trauma, Anatomy and Therapeutic Rolling, Y12SR, Trauma informed yoga, Yoga and Somatic Experiencing, Yoga in Action, Equity and Diversion, Yoga Purpose, & Action Leadership Intensive, Embody, Love Movement, Master classes in Psoas and Diaphragm Connection, Vagus nerve and Neuroscience and Yoga for Osteoporosis and bone health.

She integrates her knowledge of all the above including osteoporosis into classes and workshops and said, “I was diagnosed with osteopenia a few years ago, and got very interested in bone health.”

“Osteoporosis is one of the most widespread chronic conditions in the Western hemisphere, and it’s hard to exaggerate its health effects. Osteoporosis affects 44 million Americans. That’s more than half of everyone over the age of 50. It is 50 percent of all women of whatever age and 25 percent of all men. It affects over 200 million people worldwide”.

Jennifer shared this information:

After conducting a promising pilot study of Yoga’s effect on bone loss in 2005, Dr. Fishman – a professor at Columbia Medical School and the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, author of four books highlighting the medical potential of yoga-conducted a more thorough study from 2005-2015. During the longer study, participants were encouraged to practice 12 poses every day, holding each for about 30 seconds. Dr. Fishman discovered that participants who practiced regularly over the ten-year period had improved bone density in the spine and femur. The information/studies regarding bone health may support the claim that Yoga can help reverse bone loss. In short, according to Dr. Fishman, like weight training, yoga works by stressing the bone. Yoga stimulates the bone with isometric contraction at almost every conceivable angle for long periods of time.

Jennifer teaches every kind of yoga class-heated flow, guided flow, Sol, Surrender and instructs workshops as well. I look forward to what I can practice and learn in Jennifer’s yoga classes.

Christi Raenke Gleason, yoga, aqua and fitness instructor of over thirty years and a certified Medical Qigong Practitioner has been working in the area of strong bones since her early 20’s. She integrates energy work as well as her work as a researcher of the genetics of Alzheimer’s and dementia at Washington University in St. Louis into her instruction. She became interested when she wanted to jump start her own practice including building strong bones. She told me that bone cells live and die, and we need to treat them properly. We need to use our muscles, build them as well and grow and replenish them.

And that we need to do exercises that challenge our muscles, while remembering SAFTEY FIRST!

Christi is conservative in her classes, explaining that we need to challenge our muscles which means changing our exercise routines. The benefit of group fitness classes does just this. In her classes, she cycles through endurance and strength, challenging her students not to get comfortable-that doesn’t make bones stronger. While it is important to put pressure on our bones, always be aware that crashing and falling can lead to injury. That is also why she incorporates strategies for stretching and balancing in all her classes.

As for her aqua classes, she loves that students can work their muscles by pushing water around. It’s resistance work with water.

Christi also confirmed what my OB suggested, “It is quality versus quantity. Do those things that work and that you enjoy. Your goal for weight bearing exercises is to build bones. Find what works for you!”

Christi teaches Stretched and Balanced classes, yoga classes, weightlifting classes, and aqua classes. She is also a dancer! I love Christi’s Sunday Stretched and Balanced classes.

While I’ve been on this journey for almost three years, I continue to learn, continue to stay active and build strong bones as well as appreciate the insight of these amazing instructors. I also thank modern medicine, Jennifer Smith, my OB, Carolyn Jachna, primary care, and the entire staff at Missouri Baptist Infusion Center. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that doctors, assistants and physical therapists at BJC/Washington University Sports Injury clinic and STAR center. Without them, I wouldn’t continue moving and grooving.

And, to Elizabeth, I am indebted to you for your support and friendship while we continue to build strong bones and kick-ass biceps.

For more StoryCorps interviews, personal narratives, travel blogs and information about Whole Brain Thinking, visit my website: https://wilsonmentoringwriting.com/

Expect Good. Sparkle On. Defy Gravity. Build strong bones and keep moving!

 

About Pam Wilson

I've been writing since I can remember. At heart, I am a story-teller; making sense of my world, finding humor and light through writing. Now I help clients to write their own stories. As I continue my own writing journey, my passion is to help clients write their own stories.

4 Comments

  1. Rita Raenke(. Christi Raenke Gleason's Mother) on November 8, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    This was a very informative article. It was helpful to note all that is possible today. I’ve had several joints replaced . Arthritis has played a big part in this. my latest was a knee revision. I’m doing well but hope to keep exercising once rehab is over. ty for the article



    • Pam Wilson on November 17, 2023 at 9:15 am

      Thank you for reading Rita!



  2. Beth on November 10, 2023 at 5:13 am

    Pam your article was very thoughtful and thought-provoking, well written and great insight into what many of us experience and are going through with the same health issue. Dancing as always been a part of my happiness and so glad that it can be included!



    • Pam Wilson on November 17, 2023 at 9:15 am

      Dancing solves everything!!! Thanks for reading!