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Osteoporosis

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Though at times it may seem hopeless, Montgomery is not alone in his suffering.

There are an estimated 1.4 million Canadians who have the disease. That translates to one in every four women over 50 and one in every eight men over 50. Those numbers are expected to rise in coming years as Canada’s population ages.

A fellow sufferer is Whistler’s Eileen Tomalty, whose story is similar to Montgomery’s. Like him, Tomalty was not a prime candidate for osteoporosis with an active outdoor life and healthy living. She also drank about one litre of milk every day to boot and stayed clear of alcohol, smoking and caffeine.

When she turned 55 she did not qualify to participate in a UBC research study about the disease.

"Fifteen years later I was told that I had very severe osteoporosis," she said.

It was a defining moment in her life and she remembers the day she found out vividly.

It was winter 1999 and she was skiing with some friends. It was one of those perfect sunny days on the mountain, she recalled, except every time she tried to turn in her skis, which was as natural as walking to her, she had a pain in her lower back.

The pain was so bad that she went straight to the health centre where she learned she had an extreme case of osteoporosis in addition to two collapsed vertebrae. Her reading was minus 3.5. It was a complete shock.

"I didn’t even have an accident or anything," she said.

"They just collapsed."

That’s why osteoporosis is also known as the silent thief, robbing people of their bone density without any clue on the outside of the ravages taking place inside. The result is that sometimes it catches people like Tomalty totally unaware.

Tomalty raged against her diagnosis, alternating between anger, frustration and depression. She had a very low self-image and hated her body.

Before she was diagnosed she was skiing hard four times a week. Suddenly life as she knew it changed forever.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to her, she thought. She was doing all the right things, particularly living in Whistler where there is such a strong focus on staying fit and healthy.

"I was caught up in it. It was stupid, stupid, stupid. I just imagined I was infallible," she said, as tears pooled in her eyes.

"And I never thought about it. And that’s what just got me so angry at myself, that I could forget, that I could just think that I was going to go on forever."

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