Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Complacency


What do you feel when you read, “1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime?” I feel fear and outrage! We need to move beyond breast cancer awareness.

This year alone, hundreds of thousands of our mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, grandmothers, wives, and girlfriends will be hearing the words, “You have breast cancer.” Men get breast cancer, too, so that means some of our fathers, sons, brothers, nephews, grandfathers, husbands, and boyfriends will be hearing the same message.

You may not realize this; there is no cure for cancer. Treating cancer means pumping poisons through your veins, cutting out or off parts of your body, and zapping yourself with radiation, in an attempt to force your cancer to go into remission. But, it may come back, meaning it was always there just waiting for a diagnostic procedure to identify it…again.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This October, as a newly minted breast cancer survivor, I have mixed feelings about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

On the one hand, being aware that there is a problem is the first step in solving it. Making people aware that breast cancer is harming and killing hundreds of thousands of women and men seems like a good thing.

On the other hand, while we are participating in walk-a-thons, shopping for pink coffee mugs, and donating money to breast cancer charities, people with cancer are struggling through horrendous treatment regimes and sometimes dying.

Googling “breast cancer awareness month” gave me results from a wide variety of websites including the National Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen®,, Centers for Disease Control, and the White House.

Interspersed with ads for pink everything is solicitations for donations. On one website, you can shop by cancer type (that is just creepy). Another site is giving away Free Breast Health Guides, but only if you enter your name and email address (so they put your contact information in their database and probably sell it). Then there is my favorite, “Support Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Style with 10 Fashion Finds.”

Breast Cancer Complacency

“Despite our decades-old war on cancer, women today are much more likely to develop breast cancer than any previous generation.” —Silent Spring Institute

Before my own breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, I participated in Breast Cancer Awareness Month by pinning on a pink ribbon, buying a pink Raiders baseball cap, and writing October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I cringe now when I read it. Below are the first two sentences.

“What do the White House and the National Football League have in common? They are both looking pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

How could I have been so complacent? Going through cancer treatment is a horrific experience and some people suffer through it and then die anyways.

Today, I am a different woman than the one who wrote that post. I am feeling both grateful to be alive and outraged at our society. We seem to accept that some people will get cancer and we willingly pour billions of dollars into the cancer industry in hopes that they will receive treatment and not die.

Imagine if we focused on preventing the people we love and ourselves from getting cancer in the first place.

In the next post, we will be exploring how our environment affects our ability to prevent people from getting cancer.

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Tools for Grassroots Activists – Book Review

Tools for Grassroots Activists Book CoverActivists are businesspeople. Or they should be. That thought kept recurring while I was reading Patagonia’s Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement.

Perhaps if a greater number of people understood the business side of activism, we could accomplish more towards ensuring Earth remains habitable for us and other living creatures.

Published by outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia and edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers, Tools for Grassroots Activists brings the best of Patagonia’s Tools Conference activist training program to the public.

I have read other Patagonia books like Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman and The Responsible Company so I was expecting a thoughtful well-written and interesting book. It delivered.

The Business of Activism

In the introduction to Tools for Grassroots Activists, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard tells the story of how the first Tools Conference came about in 1994. It was a way of bringing activists together with experts in fields such as campaign strategy, marketing, fundraising, lobbying, and working with business.

“While I am often embarrassed to admit to being a businessman—I’ve been known to call them sleazeballs—I realize that many activists could learn some of the skills businesspeople possess.”

—Yvon Chouinard

The book intertwines short essays written by keynote speakers from past Tools Conferences with case studies demonstrating activists putting the tools to use and achieving their goals. My copy has many colored Post-it™ flags marking ideas and passages I feel are particularly important to my environmental not-for-profit work and me. Here are a few things I found interesting:


Kristen Grimm begins her piece with a hilarious tale about what can happen when you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve. She acknowledges that good communication is difficult and gives readers some concrete suggestions.

While reading Grimm’s essay, I found myself thinking of times when the organization I belong to has jumped ahead to identify tasks before clearly defining the goal. I think I will start taking the book with me to meetings to remind me and the rest of the group to stay focused on strategy first and then tactics.

Changing the Climate of Public Opinion

Lois Gibbs shares the story of how a small group of people living on top of a toxic waste dump changed the climate of public opinion resulting in the United States government relocating hundreds of families. You may know the neighborhood is Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York.

This story resonates with me because it demonstrates how everyday people can not only change public opinion but also overcome governmental inertia and compel agencies to act.

Working with Business

John Sterling points out that many of us work in the businesses that sell the goods and services we all rely on in our daily lives, and that businesses need to make money to stay in business. He offers practical advice on how environmental activists can effectively engage businesses.

As a project manager, I understand the importance of getting all stakeholders to the table and working together ensuring the project stays on track and within budget. It seems to me that businesses are essential stakeholders in the environmental movement, but sometimes (maybe often) activists view them as enemies and treat them as such. I realize it is difficult to view a company that is dumping toxic effluent into a stream as a partner, but they are a stakeholder in the environment, too; it behooves us to engage them.

The Bottom Line

Patagonia is a global enterprise selling outdoor clothing, equipment, books, and food provisions. Patagonia’s mission statement is, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Putting on the biennial Tools Conference and sharing knowledge in Tools for Grassroots Activists is part of how Patagonia is fulfilling its mission.

While the essays and case studies in Tools for Grassroots Activists have an environmental theme, the ideas, advice, and tools are applicable to any type of activism from advocating for an after-school art program to saving a historical building from the wrecking ball. Businesses could learn a thing or two about topics ranging from strategic planning to employee retention.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not an activist so why would I want to read this book?” Interestingly, many of the stories are by people who were not activists either. If you care about something—a person, a place, a cause—then read this book. Somewhere in its 254 pages, you will likely find an idea, a tool, or a story that inspires you.

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Diary of an Eco-Outlaw – Book Review

Diary of an Eco Outlaw Book CoverIn a way, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth by Diane Wilson could be any woman’s story. A newspaper article and a telephone call changed the course of her life.

Diary of an Eco-Outlaw is one of the two books I chose to read this March in honor of Women’s History Month. After reading Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in March 2013, I decided to make it an annual tradition to read at least one book by or about a woman environmentalist every March.

Book Review

Readers you are about to become Diane Wilson’s time- traveling companion as you go back in time and accompany her to places near and far while carrying on a conversation that lasts for 243 pages.

Diary of an Eco-Outlaw recounts several interwoven stories involving Union Carbide, former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, Texas jails, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Formosa Plastics.

The book opens with Wilson describing her upbringing and life in Seadrift, TX, a small town on a bay in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Wilson her transformation from shrimp boat captain to environmental activist began with a newspaper article claiming Calhoun County (where she lives) was number one in the country for toxic waste disposal and contained half the hazardous waste generated in Texas.

After an explosion at a Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) plant in Seadrift, Wilson received a phone call. Two weeks later she flew thousands of miles to witness a tribunal in Bhopal, India the site of a 1984 Union Carbide pesticide plant gas leak that exposed over 500,000 people to deadly methyl isocyanate gas instantly killing over 2,200 people and resulting in over 20,000 deaths since then.

Years later an email and a photograph from Bhopal landed in Wilson’s inbox and without a moment’s hesitation she embarked upon a month-long hunger strike and an act of civil disobedience at the Seadrift Union Carbide plant that landed her in jail.

Wilson’s tale of her efforts to bring Warren Anderson to justice is humorous and inspiring. Her story about protesting at a fundraiser attended by Dick Cheney and ending up in jail shows her ingenuity and fearlessness and gives a harrowing account of what it is really like to be in jail for several months.

Through Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, Wilson relays the stories of a seemingly unending stream of current and former chemical industry workers who make their way to her door armed with piles of documentation and real-life experience dealing with hazardous working conditions, knowledge of illegal company actions, and suffering from a myriad of illnesses and fear.

The book wraps up with Wilson’s trip to Taiwan to deliver Ethecon Foundation’s Black Planet Award to the Wang family during the 2009 Formosa Plastics annual shareholders meeting.

The Bottom Line

Diane Wilson is the author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas and was featured in the award-winning documentary, Texas Gold. She is a co-founder of the women’s antiwar activist group CODEPINK and founder of the Texas Jail Project an advocacy group for Texas jail inmate rights.

Diane Wilson strikes me as a courageous fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of gal with a seemingly limitless pool of compassion, creative civil disobedience ideas, and willingness to put herself on the front line of the fight for human rights and environmental justice.

One might expect a non-fiction book filled with tales of injustice, environmental degradation, corporate malfeasance, government indifference, and personal sacrifice to deliver a compelling, distressing, and sometimes shocking narrative. Diary of an Eco-Outlaw does that, yet readers will also find themselves smiling and sometimes laughing out loud.

Diane Wilson is a master storyteller.

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