Living Downstream – Book Review

Living Downstream Book CoverLiving Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment by Sandra Steingraber, combines science and the author’s own story.

I heard Steingraber talk about fracking during the 2012 Bioneers conference and found her a compelling speaker. I decided to look for her books and came across Living Downstream. The title and cover photo gave me pause, it looked depressing and scary, but I thought Steingraber probably had something important to share. So I bought the book.

Book Review

When I opened Living Downstream, I expected to read about Steingraber’s own odyssey with cancer and I was shocked to learn it began in college when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In the foreword to the 2nd edition, she writes, “Thirty years ago I had cancer.”

Readers of Living Downstream will visit Steingraber’s home county of Tazewell, Illinois, both past, and present. The stories illustrate the intersection of farming and industry. Tazewell is in America’s heartland and acts as a stand-in for any county U.S.A.

Collecting pamphlets about cancer as Steingraber did, may seem a weird habit, but it gives us a glimpse into the message the government, health organizations, and cancer treatment centers are delivering to people in waiting rooms across the U.S. Here is an excerpt from the book.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services brochure:

“You can control many of the factors that cause cancer. This means you can help protect yourself from the possibility of getting cancer. You can decide how you’re going to live your life—which habits you will keep and which ones you will change.”

Human Genetics: A Modern Synthesis book:

“Because exposure to these environmental factors can, in principle, be controlled, most cancer could be prevented….Reducing or eliminating exposures to environmental carcinogens would dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer in the United States.”

Steingraber estimates 33,600 people die in the United States each year from cancers caused by involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals. To put that figure in perspective, “33,660 is greater than the total annual number of homicides in the United States—a figure that is considered a matter of national shame.”

The Bottom Line

Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. holds a doctorate in biology and a master’s degree in creative writing. Her science background and experience give her street cred, and her writing ability makes the information accessible to non-scientists.

Some of the stories are sad, heart-rending, tragic. Steingraber tells them in words that evoke empathy and even hope rather than crushing the reader with feelings of horror or hopelessness. This is a gift.

I walked away with the knowledge that synthetic and toxic chemicals are everywhere and in everyone. Cancer is linked to the environment, they are not separate fights.

I recommend Living Downstream to people interested in learning about how what we put in the environment affects all life, including our own.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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.

The White House Goes Pink

I subscribe to the White House Daily Snapshot a daily email that provides a summary of the day’s happenings at the White House. Links enable readers to click on topics of interest to learn more.

The White House Illuminated Pink in Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The White House Illuminated Pink in Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

On Monday, the photo of the day was the White House illuminated in a pink glow to mark the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

From the e-mail, I clicked on the Presidential Proclamation link. This, in turn, provided a link to the National Cancer Institute site, part of the National Institutes of Health, which is one of the agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

National Football League – A Crucial Catch

How I got the football fan gene is a mystery as I am the only member of my family who is a football fan. This week, when I turned on Monday Night Football on ESPN, I immediately noticed the pink gear being worn by the players, coaches, officials, and fans.

This year the National Football League’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month fundraising campaign is “A Crucial Catch – Annual Screening Saves Lives.”The “catch” tie into football is clever and the message about the importance of annual mammograms is critical.

I admit that I judged the players on how much pink they were wearing. Everyone at least had a pink ribbon on their helmets. The ESPN game announcers were disappointing as neither one of them even had a pink ribbon pinned on their sports jacket.

NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Fundraising CampaignOne of the fundraisers is an auction where fans can bid on pink items worn the players. What would I do with a pair of size 13 pink football shoes? The auction didn’t appeal to me. A pink Raiders baseball cap did so I purchased it along with a Texans travel mug with a pink ribbon for my spouse.

Think Pink, Live Green –

Recently a friend forwarded me a link to the “Think Pink, Live Green” blog at It is written by Dr. Marisa Weiss and aims to help women reduce their risk of breast cancer or the disease coming back in survivors.

Think Pink, Live Green BlogThe blog covers a wide variety of topics including healthy eating, exercise, sleep, personal care, and complementary medicine. While some posts are specifically related to breast cancer, many posts contain information that anyone trying to live a more healthy and green life can benefit from.

Support Breast Cancer Awareness Month by learning, sharing, giving, and living green.

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