I’ve gone off quite a bit on my blogs about my annoyance with the suggested measures for reducing the risk of cancer. There was always one point percolating in my mind about which I would not write, because I was not sure how I could make the point, or if I even had it correct in my mind.
Let me backtrack a moment to my high school days. I am a Gen Xer, taught almost exclusively by boomer ex-hippies in my public school. My teachers were the “get out in the street and protest” sort. I never, ever forgot one of these teachers criticizing the environmental movements of the time. This teacher pointed out that the politicians of the Earth Day era put the burden on the individual to recycle, reduce, and reuse, when it was, and still is, more effective if big industry would change their practices. I’ll never forget that, and while I do recycle, reduce, and reuse, it has always been in the back of my mind that my little pea-pickin’ actions were nothing compared to what is needed, and could be accomplished if various industries were monitored and properly motivated.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article called Forget Shorter Showers, which essentially said what this teacher said so long ago, but with a lot more facts and stats to prove the point. It gave me the inspiration to explain the story above, and to ask: how does this apply to cancer? Well, I suspect it may apply quite a bit.
It seems most articles I see that discuss causes of cancer, or ways to reduces risk of cancer, I read the same tired litany of suggestions: exercise, eat right, don’t smoke or drink (you know, the same suggestions thrown out in discussions about heart health, and nearly every other BIG AILMENT). It is much more difficult to find anything saying don’t use product X, it contains a massive amount of carcinogens, or move away from (some random area), because (X corporation) factory is pumping tons of carcinogens into the air/soil/water. No, the onus is always on the individual to do what he or she can to reduce their own risk. Granted, journalists cannot point a finger at a brand name and/or product and yell “cancer causing” unless there are proven facts supporting it—otherwise it’s just slander—but why is there no urgency to research suspected products and their cancer-causing ingredients in the first place? Why are the harmful chemicals in ANY food or product in the first place? How are these industries that can cause so much environmental damage allowed to continue to do so?
Sure, I can eat right and exercise like mad, and maybe forsake my beloved wine. But is it a guarantee that I will not get cancer again? Well no, because I have to breathe the air, use products with carcinogens, etc. So much is out of my control, and the corporations (corporations are people too, yuk, yuk) have nothing to keep them accountable. And keep in mind, “eating right” is not easy as it seems. So many food-as-cancer-prevention articles suggest eating organic; in other words, spending money many don’t have on products that are hard to find, perhaps unavailable. Hey, not all of us breast cancer survivors have the disposable income to spend on organic foods. And again, why is the onus on the individual to seek out the “better” food, yet there is no pressure to eliminate the harmful products in all food?
The article states that “we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.” I think this misdirection extends to conversations about factors that cause and/or prevent cancer. The fact is we KNOW that industry has no problem putting harmful things in any and all products, or to wreck the environments in which they operate, don’t we?
Finally, the other day, it seems as if all the things I wondered about are about to get more attention. I got the email notification so many others did from Breast Cancer Fund about a report called “Breast Cancer and the Environment — Prioritizing Prevention”. It seems a few influential folks are realizing that not enough breast cancer dollars are going to prevention and the study of environmental causes of the disease. According to a New York Times article, the environmental factors in the report include the “old standards” (eat healthy, no alcohol, etc.), but I’m glad it at least it acknowledges all the other factors, the ones that the individual cannot control. I hope this report continues to get more attention in the mainstream media, maybe even those silly women’s magazines I see at the check-out line at the grocery store, the ones that tout some random food as “preventing cancer” on each new cover. It would be refreshing to see headlines not dragging out the tired “eat this, don’t drink alcohol” headlines to sell magazines.
While I am ecstatic that there is “official” confirmation of issues I think need to be corrected in the conversation about breast cancer; as in that prevention is more important and that there just has to be more or bigger factors at play than love of wine and hatred of tomatoes causing my cancer, I know this is just a baby step. Getting industry to stop using cancer-causing toxins, holding corporations accountable, enforcing policy, all this will take time and energy.
The Breast Cancer Fund encourages the public to get involved and write to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding the action plan to be implemented based on this report. I, for one, will be doing this because I think there needs to be a large organized effort (involving groups of people, not just individuals) to pressure industries to stop putting cancer-causing toxins in the air/soil/water/damn near everything. I also think things like organic food should be the norm, not the expensive exception, available only to a few.
There are so many pieces of advice out there in print and on the web saying that people are more likely to survive cancer when they have a strong support system. I hope all those folks who support people in treatment can find the time to create a support community in favor of this shift in the conversation about cancer from treatment prevention; I’m tired of it being an individual responsibility.