July 20, 2022

How Osteoporosis Broke My Spine, But Not My Spirit

Guest blog by Christine Thomas, Author of Unbreakable: A Woman’s Triumph Over Osteoporosis. This interview took place as part of SWHR’s Bone Health Program.

Crack! I was only 42 when, bending to lift my newborn daughter, I fractured my spine. Diagnosed with five vertebral fractures because of unsuspected osteoporosis, I had no idea of the painful and transformative road I would have to travel to build stronger bones.

Over the past 20 years, research and action have taught me about the reach and devastation of this disease, but also how to better manage it, live with it, and support each other.

This disease revealed to me everything I had taken for granted—and it was a disease I never saw coming. At 42, my husband and I were anticipating the birth of our first child together with enthusiasm and cautious excitement; I had three earlier miscarriages. Determined to give birth to a healthy baby, I followed doctors’ orders scrupulously. In September 2001, my daughter Chanel was born at 8.5 pounds and in good health.

Two weeks after bringing my daughter home, I was leaning over the crib to pick her up when I felt a jolt of pain through my spine. It was relentless and unbearable. After a trip to the emergency room and a follow-up visit with my physician, she called me at home to say:

“Christine, I don’t know how to tell you, but you have five spinal fractures and severe osteoporosis.”

With those words, my life changed forever.

I faced complete loss of independence, and the smallest action put me at risk for further fractures. I could not care for my daughter or even lift her, so we had to hire a full-time caregiver. It was heartbreaking to watch my one and only child bonding more with her caregiver than me.

The pain was relentless. I have learned that chronic pain can take away your livelihood, your friends, your favorite pastimes, and big chunks of your personality. Osteoporosis does not just have debilitating physical effects; emotional scars can also run deep. Recovery entails mending both the body and the soul. So, in addition to exercise, I use tools to turn around my mood and adapt to my new life: breathing exercises, meditation, and incantations.

Physiotherapy was and is my primary lifeline. It has helped me build bone and muscle as well as the confidence to take on daily activities. In addition to taking an osteoporosis treatment, I exercise religiously, drink milk, make sure I get plenty of calcium through my diet, and take vitamin D.

Being a new mother gave me the determination to start my journey of recovery. After 6 to 8 months, the fractures had healed, and the pain became more manageable. I graduated from a walker to a cane and then to my own two feet.

Once I felt strong enough, I wanted to reach out to others, so I contacted Osteoporosis Canada. Since then, I have become an author, advocate, volunteer, and speaker to share my story to help others.

Despite all that I have done to champion bone health prevention and improve my own bone health, it turns out I was not invincible from more broken bones. In November 2021 I had a fall and shattered my wrist and lower spine. I spent 47 days in the hospital, had three surgeries, and then spent 10 days in a rehabilitation center to regain my strength and confidence.

Many people think osteoporosis is a natural part of aging. The truth is, osteoporosis can be what I call “3D” – devastating, debilitating, and depressing. It’s more than just a curved spine or a broken bone. One false move, one fall on a slippery sidewalk, even one sneeze can change your life forever. While we may not be able to eliminate risk for fracture entirely, we can all take important preventive steps.

That’s why I am determined to get the word out there: osteoporosis is a big deal. It has long-term ramifications, both individually and socially, and since it’s often only discovered after a sudden and surprising fracture, it seems to invade like a thief in the night.

So, I encourage people living with the disease to:

Now, more than ever, I recognize how much the patient voice matters. I am one of the patient partners working on the update of the Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Osteoporosis in Canada. I am also working with a team to develop online modules on “how to do patient engagement” that will soon be released by the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Whichever way we choose to engage will have benefits: we learn more and feel empowered, we make better decisions for ourselves, and we help researchers make better, more relevant decisions that will benefit others.

I will continue to increase awareness for osteoporosis, participate as a patient partner in research, advocate to help advance policies on bone health, and improve health outcomes. Osteoporosis broke my spine, but it did not break my spirit!


About Christine Thomas
Ottawa, Canada-based Christine Thomas is the author of Unbreakable: A Woman’s Triumph Over Osteoporosis. She is an advocate for meaningful patient involvement in disease research and management. Her expertise is grounded in her volunteer roles with the Osteoporosis Canada Board of Directors, the Canadian Osteoporosis Patient Network (COPN) of Osteoporosis Canada, and with the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health & Arthritis (IMHA) of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), where she is a Patient Engagement Research Ambassador. She can be contacted on Twitter at @AskChristineT.