INTERVIEW

GH’s Nancy Lee Grahn On Alexis's Osteoporosis Diagnosis

Soap Opera Digest: What was your reaction to find out that GH was going to incorporate osteoporosis into your storyline?

Nancy Lee Grahn: I thought it was great! You know me; I have been advocating for women’s rights forever, which would include women’s health, so I thought it was a great opportunity to put this information out there, which is important to be heard. I was happy to do it.

Digest: Why do you think soap operas are such a strong vehicle for disseminating medical information and exploring social issues?

Grahn: I think the familiarity of it, the fact that it’s on every day. And also, just historically, that’s what it has done. I mean, Agnes Nixon [the late creator of ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE] made her career off of that! It’s an intimate medium, where fans are used to seeing us every day. So, why not use it? It’s a community, and it’s familial. It seems like it would be the perfect place for it, really.

Digest: On GH, of course, Alexis will be the conduit through which viewers learn more about this disease. Why do you think Alexis was the right choice for this story?

Grahn: Because I think she’s the most relatable character, number one. I think the audience relates to her. She’s more like them, in terms of her moral compass and her ethics and her work and her being a mom. And I think it’s age-appropriate. I mean, does anyone really think I’m not over 50? I mean, that would be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it [laughs]? I don’t mind being utilized in this way. They are using my character to send an important message out, and I’m all for that. This isn’t going to define her by any stretch, it’s just a moment in time to use the medium to promote awareness for something that women don’t want to talk about. A lot of the comments on Facebook [when the story was announced] was, “Why are they making her old?” It all of a sudden became about old age, and that is a myth, where you associate the disease of osteoporosis with some old woman hanging over her walker. Women in their 50s, one in two women over 50 — that is where the risk happens. And think about the women we know that are 50. Jennifer Lopez — does she look fragile? No! So, there’s a misperception about it that’s misleading. And I think this is a great opportunity to get beyond that.

Digest: It’s an interesting time for Alexis to face a medical crisis, because obviously she is not in the greatest frame of mind right now on screen — she’s grieving for Neil, she’s lost her law license. How do you imagine Alexis might respond to having a health issue to contend with on top of her other trials and tribulations?

Grahn: The way they have me do it is I think the way a lot of women would react, which is to deny it and ignore it, first of all, just go, “Ah, I hurt my wrist, whatever.” Ignore it, not think about it, not put two and two together about it until you end up at an ER and they do X-rays and tell you! Unfortunately, that’s probably the way it happens way too often. They had her deny it and get pissed off about it and that’s very in-character for Alexis. I don’t know if that is how most women would react to it, and I hope they don’t, because it’s just a fact of life! But my character, she doesn’t acknowledge a lot of the things in her life that she should and just sort of gets pissed off about it and moves on to the next thing. But I don’t think this is going to go on and on. Like I said, this isn’t going to define her. It is a moment in time because we really do have an agenda here, [which is]to say, “Look, let’s pay attention to this. Let’s put some neon lights around the subject, this issue of osteoporosis, and put some energy and thought out there and see if some women will benefit from it.” How many people do you think are going to call and get a bone density test now? I hope everybody will call their doctor and just go, “You know what? I haven’t thought of this.” There’s no downside to this, really. If anyone thinks it makes me look old, well, I don’t agree. Whatever anybody’s issue is with this, the more important issue is to get this out there.

Digest: What do you hope will be the key takeaways of this storyline moment for the audience?

Grahn: I think the key issue is just awareness. If you’re over 50, go get your bones checked. Stay on top of it, don’t deny it, don’t think it means something that it doesn’t mean. Don’t have any kind of shame or idea that this is negative. Take care of your health. Be assertive. And also, start talking about it! It seems like this is a conversation people don’t want to have because it brings up aging. Society isn’t kind around age. But we can stop that if we start talking about it and not keeping it a secret, because when you keep it a secret, it not only jeopardizes your health, but it makes it seem like there’s something wrong with it. Demystify it! Take away the stigma of it and lean into it. Let’s take care of ourselves. Women lose their estrogen and don’t want to talk about that. Obviously, it’s not a conversation that you want to bring up at the dinner table, but it’s a fact of life and it doesn’t make anybody less than. Bone weakness doesn’t make you fragile! Women are strong and vibrant at every age.

Digest: Is there anything that you yourself didn’t know that was a surprise to you as you’ve delved into this issue?

Grahn: Yes. The first thing is that it is really prevalent, and one in two women over 50 will break a bone in their lifetime, which is not a small thing. A break is painful, it can be life-altering, it can affect mobility, it can lead to changes in your lifestyle. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was. And 50 is still young! This isn’t for women who are 150, this is at middle age that you need to start paying attention to this. The second thing I didn’t know is that it was chronic and that it was progressive and can lead to increased risk of fractures. And the third thing, which is the good news, is that there are lifestyle changes and treatment options that can help. So, all you have to do is be aware of it, call your doctor, get your bone density test, keep the conversation going, make sure your friends are doing it, make sure your sisters are doing it. It’s manageable. When she had lung cancer years ago, that means different things than having osteoporosis. With osteoporosis, there are things you can do to take care of yourself to avoid the onset of it and it’s manageable. Like I said, this is not going to be a defining health issue. It’s a disease like other people have diseases that they live with. It’s not going to carry on and on and on, it’s just a moment in time for her.

Digest: And it doesn’t mean she isn’t going to be vibrant and romantically viable.

Grahn: Certainly not! This isn’t going to stop her from doing anything. She’s just going to have to be mindful and take advice from her doctor and following treatment plans and be careful of her bones. It’s not going to stop her sex life, or her vibrancy, or her exercising. She will continue to live a very Alexis-y life! It’s just a little life lesson for my character and for the audience, and a good one at that. And there is no better venue to send this message.

Digest: Where should our readers go for more information?

Grahn: Takechargeofosteo.com. I’m just the amplifier of the message to be aware of this disease, but that’s the place where the experts are talking.

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