Breast Cancer Awareness – Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon

Finding out if you have breast cancer is the first step in surviving it.

Wearing a pink ribbon is a non-confrontational way of putting a face on breast cancer and inviting the people you encounter to engage you in conversation.

Although anytime is a good time help people learn about breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings it to the attention of the general public potentially giving you a wider audience for sharing information, support, or assistance. The way you interact with people will affect how willing they are to receive what you have to offer.

For instance, how would you feel if you were walking down the street on your way to run an errand during your lunch break and I stopped you and asked you if you had mammogram recently? What if I turned to you in the grocery market checkout line and began reciting breast cancer statistics? What would you do if we were sitting next to each other waiting for a meeting to begin and I introduced myself as a breast cancer survivor and began describing my chemotherapy treatment?

Chances are you would feel offended, threatened, annoyed or some other emotion and would try to get away from me as soon as possible.

Now, imagine you see me adorned with a pink ribbon minding my own business as I walk down the street, stand in the checkout line, or sit waiting for a meeting. Of course, you might not notice my pink ribbon or you could just ignore it and me. But then again, maybe you will see the pink ribbon and it will spark a thought.

Perhaps it jogs your memory and you scrounge around your purse looking for the mammogram slip you doctor gave several months ago. After pulling out the crumpled form along with your cell phone, you call to make a mammogram appointment. Possibly, you are curious and open a dialogue with me by asking me if I am a breast cancer survivor or why I am wearing a pink ribbon (this has happened to me, although not in the grocery market). Maybe a friend who is undergoing breast cancer treatment comes to mind so you sneak out of the meeting and call her volunteering to drop off dinner tomorrow.

Do you see what I mean?

Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon in October

Wearing a pink ribbon during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is personal for me. I am a breast cancer survivor. It is part of who I am, now.

Each morning during October, I attach a pink ribbon to whatever I am wearing for several reasons.

One is that I want to remind the people who see me that breast cancer affects real people devastating our lives and too often killing us. It could be you or someone you love. Breast cancer mostly affects women, but a small number of men get breast cancer, too.

Another reason is that by wearing a pink ribbon, I am inviting you to engage in a conversation with me at a level that feels comfortable to you, but only if you choose to talk with me. It is your choice.

Woman Wearing a Pink T-Shirt and Ribbon Shouting into a Megaphone
Photo Credit – iStock/RyanKing999

As odd as this may sound, wearing a pink ribbon also acts as a sort of safety mechanism for me. It cautions me that even though I might feel like ranting and raving about toxins in the environment, complacency about cancer in our society, or government agencies failing to protect our health, I realize that throwing a fit is not going to encourage you or anyone else to talk with me about breast cancer.

A Mammogram Saved My Life

Saying “A mammogram saved my life.” is an overly dramatic and not completely correct statement but it does grab your attention.

My breast cancer tumor was buried against my chest wall and was not detectable to the touch. A mammogram first alerted my doctor and then me that I might have breast cancer. The ultrasound that followed the mammogram indicated that I likely had invasive breast cancer and the biopsy confirmed it.

I have shared parts of my breast cancer journey in other posts like Life after Cancer – Volunteering, New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 – Hit the Reset Button, and Life after Cancer – Gardening so I will not repeat myself here. I am grateful to be alive every single day.

Tragically, not everyone who has a mammogram and later receives the dreaded diagnosis “You have breast cancer.” will make it through treatment and live. My heart is full of grief for these women and men and the people who love them.

Having a mammogram could help you or someone you love to survive breast cancer so I urge you to get regular mammograms.

Pink Merchandise Exploitation

Pink everything is everywhere during October.

Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness
Photo Credit – Dreamstime/Msc1974

Companies and even nonprofit organizations cash in on pink and beribboned merchandise. Some of the products you will see for sale include wristbands, t-shirts, key chains, lingerie, coffee mugs, jewelry, tote bags, Christmas tree ornaments, sunglasses, hats, shoes, pens, candy, stickers, bottled water, party decorations, posters, tools, and cosmetics.

Although some companies contribute a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research or support services for women and men undergoing treatment, many do not.

I know that the plethora of pink ribbons and other pink items are upsetting for some women and men for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the sheer volume of stuff available ensures that you will run across items that may offend you. For instance, I cannot decide which is worse the t-shirt with the statement “Save Second Base” or the button that says, “I have chemo brain. What’s your excuse?”

However, I admit that I have purchased pink Breast Cancer Awareness gear over the years.

In 2012 before my breast cancer diagnosis, on a whim, I bought an Oakland Raiders baseball cap during the NFL’s annual “Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign.

As a newly minted breast cancer survivor in 2016 needing tennis shoes, I selected a black pair with pink accents and a tiny pink ribbon on the heel.

Before October rolled around in 2017, I carefully selected two pink ribbon brooches that I could see myself alternately wearing for 31 days a year for years to come. I also bought a sheet of pink ribbon stickers so I could attach one to the letter I was writing to Scott Pruitt, who was the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time.

Last October, I attended a Raiders game in Oakland with my sister and my niece. I was wearing a pink ribbon pin and my pink Raiders baseball hat. The Raiders team colors are black and silver so when you are walking around among thousands of people wearing a pink hat you really stand out. Maybe no one noticed, but maybe someone did.

If even one woman or one man seeing a pink ribbon worn by anyone or on anything survive breast cancer because she or he first got a mammogram and then treatment, I am willing to wear a pink ribbon every October forever.

Featured Image at Top: Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon and Pink Speech Bubbles – Photo Credit Shutterstock/hidesy

Related Posts

Resources

  • Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 – American Cancer Society (From this webpage you can download a report containing data about all cancers including breast cancer.)
  • MammographySavesLives – The American College of Radiology (This website provides a broad range of information including survivor stories and a tool for finding mammogram facilities in your area.)
  • Mammography – Susan G. Komen (This webpage has good information but the video is antiquated.)
  • My First Mammogram Dispelled Every Myth About the Procedure – Borgess Medical Center (This is a video of Heather McGregor getting her first mammogram. Of course, there is variation in equipment and facilities, but this video will give you a good idea of what a mammogram is like. In my experience, the technician does not share images during the exam.)
  • National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (This webpage provides information about free and low-cost screenings in the United States.)

GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Pesticide Proliferation

What we do to the environment we do to ourselves.

Biotech crops continue to spread across the world but that does not necessarily mean GMOs and bioengineered food are good for people and the environment.

When I began my quest, at the beginning of July, to learn more about GMOs and bioengineered food, I did not have a preconceived destination. I did know that I wanted to attempt to filter out the noise surrounding this highly controversial subject to find some useful information for you and me so we could each form our own opinion and decide if we wanted to take further action or not.

It was while I was writing GMOs and Bioengineered Food – What is It? that I decided to write a 4-part series hoping to find a balance between too little and too much material. The second and third posts, GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Historical Milestones and GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Laws and Regulations, illustrated how we got to where we are today and gave an overview of how the EPA, FDA, and USDA handle their regulatory authority and responsibilities in the United States.

Originally, I thought this fourth and final post in the series would cover general environmental issues, but when I had it mostly written, I realized that I wanted to focus on one specific issue—the proliferation of pesticide use on a massive scale, not just in the U.S. but across the entire world, driven by increasing adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops and spurred on by agrochemical companies.

Pesticides are Everywhere and in Everyone

One of the creepiest commercials I can ever remember seeing is the one that portrays an attractive 30-something family man as a hero because he wipes out a single dandelion growing in a crack in his driveway using the handily attached spray wand on his gallon-size jug of Roundup.

Pests and weeds (bugs and plants people do not like) have been around forever, are ubiquitous, and contribute to healthy ecosystems. Of course, there needs to be some kind of balance between us and them. Yet, humans seem to have developed a zero-tolerance for these constituents of nature and are on a mission to try to eradicate them by spraying pesticides everywhere.

Farmer Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops
Farmer Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops – Photo Credit iStock/aluxum

So what is a pesticide?

The word pesticide is derived from the Latin pestis (deadly contagious disease; a curse, bane) and cide (killer or act of killing). It is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of substances that humans use to kill living plants, animals, and other organisms that we do not want living in our buildings, yards, playgrounds, parks, or agricultural fields and orchards. Insecticides kill insects, herbicides kill plants, rodenticides kill rodents, fungicides kill fungi, and so on.

Non-GE crops may be sprayed with pesticides, too, but GE crops with built-in pesticide tolerance (especially to herbicides) actually promote pesticide use because they can withstand heavy and repeated spraying with pesticides.

65% of the GE crops approved in 2017 were genetically engineered with herbicide tolerance contributing to the global pesticide market that is valued at about $65 billion per year and growing.1, 2

Pesticides and People

The widespread acceptance of pesticides results in billions of pounds of pesticides being sprayed on agricultural fields and orchards all over the world, as well as in our homes and yards.3 Just in the U.S., there are over 16,000 registered pesticides and not that long ago, the EPA approved huge increases in what is called “tolerable” pesticide residues on crops and food.4, 5

In the real world, which is where everyone lives, we are exposed to pesticides in our air, water, and food every day.

High School in Waialua, Hawaii Next to Pesticide Test Field
A High School in Waialua, Hawaii Next to a Pesticide Test Field – Photo Credit Jon Woodhouse/The Maui Independent

In 2015, the World Health Organization designated glyphosate (the herbicide in Roundup) as a probable human carcinogen (meaning it probably causes cancer in people).6 Monsanto, the company that created Roundup during the 1970s, is facing more than 5,000 lawsuits in the U.S. alone.7

This is just one example.

Pesticides and the Environment

Pesticide makers want you to believe the pesticides only kill the targeted pest or weed but that is a gross oversimplification.

You have likely read about how neonicotinoid pesticides are endangering the bees and butterflies that pollinate our food crops and orchard trees as they go about their business. If we kill off nature’s pollinators, a lot of the food you currently buy at the grocery market will disappear, but even more worrying is that no one really knows what kind of a chain reaction could occur in the wild.

Dead Zone along Louisiana Coastline in Gulf of Mexico
A Dead Zone along the Louisiana Coastline in the Gulf of Mexico – Photo Credit NASA

Another less publicized issue is dead zones in waterways and estuaries where no aquatic life can survive in the water or on the adjacent land. This, in turn, leads to erosion and flooding. Dead zones are created by fertilizers and pesticides running off fields and orchards into streams, rivers, and lakes. Pesticides kill organisms in the soil and you cannot grow plants or trees in the dead soil, therefore, fertilizers are applied to rejuvenate the soil and then pesticides are sprayed to kill bugs and weeds, which kills the soil.

Superbugs and superweeds are already evolving that can withstand the pesticides we try to kill them with, which causes a twofold problem. First, fields are sprayed more often and with a greater array of more toxic pesticides. Second, agrochemical companies race to invent poisons that are even more powerful. Then the pests and weeds evolve and the cycle continues.

Palmer Amaranth (Pigweed) Superweed Growing in Agricultural Field
Palmer Amaranth Superweed Growing in an Agricultural Field – Photo Credit Lisa Behnken/University of Minnesota Extension

Palmer amaranth (pigweed) is one weed that has evolved to resist herbicides and is now considered a superweed.

This led to the development of GE crops that can tolerate a more powerful herbicide called dicamba. This herbicide endangers people and as it drifts from fields where it is being sprayed dicamba settles on other crops and plants and kills them, too. This is just one superweed problem that has spurred state and federal investigations and lawsuits.8, 9

What Can You Do?

After wading through and digesting five weeks of research and discussing it with my family, I came to the conclusion that genetic engineering technology could probably be used to benefit society and even the environment, but I believe that our current approach to feeding the world is endangering people and the environment, while lining the pockets of a handful of multi-national corporations focused on quarterly profits.

We need to change.

It is up to each one of us to care enough about ourselves, our children, and the people of the future to take action to change the world. Governments and corporations only change when people say, “we are not going to take it anymore,” and demand change through their actions.

Farmers are on the front lines. Just like everyone else, they are trying to make a living, and they may feel they have no choice but to accept GE crops and the harmful agrochemicals they require. Farmers should not have to go to work wearing hazmat suits.

Young Female Farmer Standing in an Agricultural Field
A Young Female Farmer Standing in an Agricultural Field – Photo Credit NRDC

Let’s help farmers make a living providing healthful food to eat while protecting themselves, their families, us, and the environment. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Even if you can only do something occasionally, it all adds up.

  • Buy certified organic food. It is GMO-free and good for the soil.
  • Shop at the farmers market where you can actually talk to the people growing your food.
  • Make more meals with whole ingredients (packaged foods contain many GMO corn and soy products).
  • Shop at grocery stores that sell local and regionally grown food. Co-ops are a great source.
  • Donate your time and/or money to an organization, like Agrarian Trust, that helps young farmers who want to practice sustainable agriculture get access to farmland.
  • Eat vegetarian meals more often (a lot of GMO corn and soy crops are used to feed livestock animals).
  • Pass up fast food and make your own lunch sometimes (fast food contains a lot of GMO corn and soy).
  • Sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share and get fresh seasonal food every week during the growing season.
  • Tell your elected officials that you want to eat pesticide-free food.
  • Let food companies know why you stopped buying their products and what they need to do to win you back as a customer.

“If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if by knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.” —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)

Reader Note: At the end of this post, in the resource sections, I listed the books, films, and websites I used throughout this series as well as articles specific to this post. You can find other resources in the previous posts.

Featured Image at Top: Farmer Spraying Pesticide on His Crops Using a Drone – Photo Credit iStock/baranozdemir

Related Posts

References

  1. Brief 53: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017 – International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 06/26/18 (p. 107)
  2. Whitewash – by Carey Gillam, published by Island Press, 2017 (p. 236)
  3. Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide – by Michael C.R. Alavanja, Ph.D., National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009
  4.  Whitewash – by Carey Gillam, published by Island Press, 2017 (p. 229)
  5. Food Fight – by McKay Jenkins, published by Avery, 2017 (p. 280)
  6. IARC Monograph on Glyphosate – World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer
  7. Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Trial – by Tina Bellon (Reuters), The New York Times, 08/10/18
  8. This miracle weed killer was supposed to save farms. Instead, it’s devastating them – by Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post, 08/29/17
  9. Challenging EPA, Monsanto Over the Crop-Damaging Pesticide “Xtendimax” – press release, Earthjustice, 2018

Resources – Books

Resources – Films

  • Consumed (This is a fictional anti-GMO movie that may help some viewers get a grip on the situation.)
  • Food Evolution (This pro-GMO documentary contains some useful information.)
  • GMO OMG (This film covers the issues associated with GMOs like corporate ownership of the food system)
  • Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives (This anti-GMO documentary contains some useful information.)

Resources – Websites and Articles