Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Our Environment

Farm Worker Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops

Imagine preventing the people we love and ourselves from getting breast cancer by ensuring our environment is clean and healthy. Expand that vision to all cancers.

This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I propose we look beyond the pink ribbons and feel good activities. Let us talk about the pink elephant in the room, the possible link between our environment and cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk

Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is a deluge of articles and blog posts written to help you evaluate your breast cancer risk mostly by reviewing your genetics, family cancer history, and lifestyle choices (often referred to as environmental factors). Competing for space are advertisements for pink merchandise and reports on efforts to find a cure for cancer.

I am not against learning about breast cancer and ways to reduce risk, or pink ribbons (I am wearing one as I write this), or research to help people with cancer live happy and fulfilling lives. What bothers me is the emphasis on preventing cancer through personal choices.

“A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.” —Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is good advice—for everyone.

Breast Cancer and the Environment

The thing is, while you are busy living your healthy lifestyle (which I am definitely for) you may be missing a crucial piece of the cancer causation puzzle—the environment. You, me, everyone is part of the environment and we depend on it for oxygen, water, food; a place to live, work, and play; for beauty and spirituality.

How does breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, eating food doused in pesticides; living, working, and playing in spaces made with and filled with toxic materials and being exposed to carcinogens just by walking around contribute to you or your loved ones getting cancer?

It is a complex issue requiring a lot more research. However, lack of research does not necessarily mean there is no problem.

  • Has anyone ever proven that spraying poison on food in the form of pesticides and herbicides is good for people’s health?
  • Has there been a scientific study showing that emissions from coal-burning power plants improve the condition of people’s lungs?
  • Is there peer-reviewed research demonstrating that the unpronounceable ingredients in cosmetics are safe and improve life expectancy?

It seems to me that a clean and healthy environment on planet Earth is crucial for each one of us to be healthy, happy, and cancer free.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Call to Action

Okay, so now perhaps you are willing to consider that our environment may be contributing to the possibility of you and / or your loved ones getting cancer. So what can you do about it?

Take action.

First, eat your fruits and vegetables, be physically active, and get enough sleep. There is no downside to living a healthy lifestyle!

Become Informed

Read the ingredients on your favorite snack package or preferred shampoo brand bottle. Then go look up the ingredients on the Internet. Do you still want to eat that or wash your hair with it? Do this repeatedly. Involve your kids and everyone can learn something.

Make your Voice Heard

Write a letter or e-mail to your congressperson, the mayor of your town, or the President of the United States letting him or her know you are concerned about cancer and how our environment might be contributing to it. Government agencies track issues of concern to their constituencies and data can be a powerful tool.

Hit the Streets

Join a group of people in your community who are working on something important to you. Do you worry about pesticide residue on the lettuce you buy at the grocery market? Are you losing sleep over the expansion of a natural gas fracking operation near your home or your child’s school? Are you concerned about pollution in a favorite stream or lake? Locate a group via your friends, family, coworkers, web browser or social media.

For my action, I am doing some research.

In his, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2016 Presidential Proclamation, President Obama announced the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which is striving to make a decade’s worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in just 5 years. I want to find out if and how the environment is being included in this national cancer research project.

What are you doing? Share your Breast Cancer Awareness Month action with other readers.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Complacency

pink-ribbon-for-breast-cancer-awareness

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®, Breastcancer.org, 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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Life after Cancer – Volunteering

Empowerment - Woman with Outstretched Arms Standing on Mountaintop with Clouds at Sunset

Hearing the words “You have invasive breast cancer.” changed my life forever. I remember little from that first conversation except asking my doctor, “Am I going to die?”

Dealing with cancer or a devastating loss—like losing a loved one or suddenly finding yourself out of job—is traumatic; it derails your life. You are no longer in control. The illness or loss takes precedence and everything else fades into the background. However, at some point you must get your life back on track.

Volunteering helped me take back my life. It made me feel empowered and gave me the impetus I needed to take up my post-cancer life. Today, I am grateful to be alive and able to share my story with you in hopes that it may help you if you are struggling to take back your life after suffering a terrible illness or personal loss.

Losing Control of My Life

As a person used to managing my own schedule and making my own decisions, I was shocked at how quickly I completely lost control over my life.

Medical receptionists were in charge of my daily schedule. They told me when and where to show up for doctor visits, diagnostic procedures, infusions (chemotherapy), surgery, and radiation treatments. Trying to make plans around medical appointments was futile because I never knew how I would be feeling tomorrow, let alone next week.

My own body had seemingly turned against me by getting cancer in the first place. Now it was determining which side effects I would have, what I could or could not eat, and how far I could walk on any given day. My routine of walking an hour a day did not last long as chemotherapy sapped my energy. Walking for 5 or 10 minutes or taking a shower became a major accomplishment.

Being a cancer patient affected my state of mind. I felt like I was on a runaway train going to an unknown destination with danger lurking around every bend. Fear, self-pity, and anger were my constant companions. My world shrank. Making it through the day became my mission. I could not believe this was my life. Unfortunately, it was.

After a horrific yearlong journey, I was cancer free. Rejoicing to be alive, I thought, “Now I can get back to my life!” The hard part was figuring out how to get started.

Taking Back My Life through Volunteering

My work, this website and blog, beckoned, but I was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of trying to pick up where I had left off. I thrashed about trying to get my footing. Then, on a February evening during a meeting in my living room, a solution presented itself.

The meeting was for Ecologistics, an environmental and social justice not-for-profit organization. Ecologistics brings people together to learn, share ideas, and take action to ensure that life on Earth can continue for people and all other living creatures.

I saw a chance to deploy my business and project management skills in service of this organization and volunteered to fulfill two Board of Director positions: Secretary and Treasurer.

Soon I was knee deep in preparing meeting minutes, analyzing financial documents, and learning QuickBooks. I took on banking, writing the e-newsletter, and managing the development of our new website. Instead of worrying about things like, “When will my hair grow back?” or, “I wonder if I will be able to hike up a mountain again?” I found myself thinking about how to streamline and tighten up our financial processes or tracking web site development tasks to make sure we could make our go-live date.

Volunteering is Empowering

My efforts directly contributed to timely and accurate meeting minutes, smooth-running financial processes, a $1,000 grant award, an updated e-newsletter format, and a new website. Though I did not do this all by myself, Ecologistics has benefited from my work.

I received an unexpected benefit myself. By using my skills and experience in service of an organization aligned with my beliefs, volunteering gave me a feeling of empowerment.

After spending several months with the pedal to the metal working for Ecologistics, I slowly realized that I was already well on the way to taking back my life and adapting to life after cancer. I am ready to push the restart button on Green Groundswell and continue my mission of convincing other unlikely environmentalists like me to live more gently on the Earth and keep it habitable for all.

Volunteering Can Help You Too

For those of you struggling to get your life back on track, consider volunteering. There are thousands of not-for-profit organizations and community groups doing good things. They need your passion, talents, and knowledge.

Everyone has something to offer. Can you bake delicious chocolate chip cookies? Drop off a batch for a group of activists spending all day Saturday in a planning meeting. Are you a whiz at Excel spreadsheets? Help an organization create and track a budget for the first time. Do you enjoy meeting and talking to new people? Sign up to staff a booth or table at an event. Are you good at speaking in front of a large group of people? Offer to emcee an event or give a presentation for a group you admire. Do you have a green thumb? Volunteer at a community garden.

Pick a cause you care about and volunteer to do something. Through helping others you can help yourself, too.

Inspire other people by sharing your own volunteering empowerment story.