When you’re battling breast cancer, it can be easy to forget about your bones. But what many Black breasties don’t realize is that their fight against cancer can take a huge toll on their bone health.
As Howard University Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Sara Horton put it: “We know that some breast cancer treatments may cause weakening of the bones. Luckily, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help prevent this. Part of your breast cancer management plan needs to include taking care of your bones.”
Bones are dynamic living structures made up of a hard, thick outer layer and a spongy, honeycomb interior. Healthy, young bone constantly breaks down and rebuilds, but eventually your bones break down faster than they build back up. This imbalance creates weaknesses in your bones—thin areas on the outer layer and larger, gaping openings in the honeycomb—that can make your bones brittle and increase your chance of fracture (Westmead Breast Cancer Institute).
For women, estrogen plays a key role in protecting and helping to build bone. When estrogen levels drop, either naturally from menopause or due to some cancer medications, women begin to lose bone strength and density.
Some common breast cancer treatments that impact or target estrogen, like tamoxifen and certain chemotherapies, speed up bone breakdown and depletion. As a result, breast cancer survivors are at higher risk for bone loss leading to osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become so fragile that they are more prone to breaks or fractures (NIH).
Meet Our Breastie Bone Warrior
Angela (Jersi) Baker is a three-time survivor of ER/PR+ HER2- breast cancer. She was first diagnosed at age 32 with stage 0 non-invasive breast cancer (also called ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS), which was discovered during her regular yearly physical. Angela decided to undergo a unilateral mastectomy paired with reconstruction. Her doctor also prescribed five years of the drug Tamoxifen to prevent recurrence.
But Angela experienced two recurrences: a local recurrence in 2010 that was surgically removed and then, in 2011, a metastatic stage IV diagnosis. What had felt like a stubborn cold turned out to be metastatic spread of the cancer to her chest wall, spine, and head.
Angela completed 24 rounds of radiation and a regimen of drug treatments. Because of the correlation between estrogen and her cancer, Angela also opted for an oophorectomy—the removal of one or both ovaries—to decrease her estrogen levels and minimize the chances of her cancer spreading further. Angela explanted in 2016.
Ten years later, Angela runs Angel in Disguise, her own non-profit that provides free transportation to and from doctor’s appointments for cancer patients. Beyond transportation, Angel in Disguise also offers emotional and moral support that includes helping patients to understand diagnoses as well as sitting through treatments with them. Through Angel in Disguise, Angela has currently driven 1,689 patients for 21,369 miles and spent a cumulative 422 waiting hours in doctors’ offices and treatment centers. In her free time, Angela makes beautiful shirts with her catchphrase “Live Life Now” emblazoned on the front.