Friday, October 29, 2010

Friends in cyberspace

The internet is a funny place. Some of the relationships you have are with people you actually know in real life, and some are with people you only know in cyberspace. Sometimes you get to know people pretty well in cyberspace, especially if they write frequently in their blog. And sometimes, people you know only from cyberspace die. And it is really, really sad, even though you have never actually met them in person.

RivkA was one of those people.

I follow a number of "Jewish" blogs of various types, and one of them is called A Mother In Israel. When that blogger read about my struggles with breast cancer, she connected me with RivkA. I've been reading her blog for several years now, and was always amazed at her energy and ability to live fully in each moment, even while dealing with her serious and ultimately, fatal breast cancer.

An example of that is a post here from her blog from just a month ago:
Last week, for the first time, I had such a difficult time teaching swimming that I wondered if I would be able to continue. Given how weak I felt, I did not know until this morning if I would be up for teaching today. Even if I could manage to teach, I worried that it would take everything out of me and leave me like a rag again.

In the end, I felt OK, so I decided to teach, and I am so glad!

I had amazing classes!!

My beginners all accomplished a new step forward and we were all so excited!

My advanced swimmers worked hard and had a very productive lesson as well.

Of course I felt tired afterwards, but I also felt great!

I love teaching and days like today make all the efforts worthwhile!!
RivkA leaves a husband and 3 teen-aged children. Breast cancer is not fair. Some people do fine, and others die.

I remember when I first started reading RivkA's blog, in spite of her optimism, I realized that this brave person would likely not make it. Her cancer was spreading. She had some time, but not a lifetime.

Hearing of her death makes me renew my commitment to work to end this disease. To figure out how to prevent breast cancer before it begins, so other families will not have to suffer the way RivkA's family surely is.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Monday, October 18, 2010


As much as I'm all for understanding environmental exposures and their connections to breast cancer and other cancers (and other diseases), I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that we personally can avoid this and that product, and somehow save ourselves and our family from cancer. I just don't buy it.

My feeling is that the chemicals that are causing the problem are so ubiquitous that we really can't avoid them. These chemicals are in the soil and water, in our homes, and even in our bodies (even the President's Cancer Panel Report admits that "babies are born pre-polluted"). I don't think that making small changes in our lifestyles will really make a difference. But others feel differently. They feel that by eating organic food, avoiding microwaving in plastic, using natural cosmetics, etc., that they are at least doing something.

So I received this email today:

Dear Adena,

What's orange, yellow, and pink all over? The month of October! Fall's here with orange pumpkins, yellow leaves-- and the "think pink" campaign of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everything is adorned with pink ribbons, from yogurt cups to NFL football helmets. But our friends at the Breast Cancer Fund know that it's not enough to just be aware of breast cancer. We need to start preventing this disease and protect our families from cancer!

Please join MomsRising and the Breast Cancer Fund for a free and important webinar briefing to learn about practical ways to protect your family from cancer causing toxins. We’ll talk about how parents can make safer purchases and choices for their families and participate in a larger movement to protect children from toxic exposures.
This hour-long, web-based presentation, based on the Breast Cancer Fund’s report "2010 State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment," will emphasize the newest science connecting exposure to unsafe chemicals and radiation to increased risk of breast cancer. This important report catalogues the growing evidence linking breast cancer to, among other factors, synthetic hormones in cosmetics and meat; pesticides in food; solvents in household cleaning products; BPA in food containers; flame retardants in furniture; and radiation from medical treatments. We know exposures early in life are linked to breast cancer later in life and other health concerns, which means it’s especially important to protect children from environmental chemicals and radiation.
See what I mean? I agree with them up to a point, but then, I don't agree with the idea that we have the ability to "protect our children from environmental chemicals and radiation." I just don't think we are that powerful. I think much bigger changes -- in manufacturing practices, in lawn care practices, and so on -- will be needed to really change things. Sorry, I don't mean to be a downer, but that's how I feel.

Friday, October 01, 2010

On breast cancer

Well, it's October 1st. It's national "pay attention to breast cancer" month. I'm not really happy with the pink nausea, everyone telling you to buy this yogurt or that pair of jeans and the company will donate 10 cents to this fund or that fund... But, regardless of my feelings, here we are.

Here are some things that I feel are important:

There is strong, growing scientific evidence that the cause of breast cancer is environmental, i.e. chemicals in our food, water, air, and soil. You can see some of this evidence in the Breast Cancer Fund's report The State of the Evidence 2010. Another important source of information is the President's Cancer Panel's recent report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. Also, be sure to read the Silent Spring Institute's fact sheet on breast cancer and the environment. The point is to figure out how to prevent breast cancer before it begins. Mammograms can (sometimes) find breast cancer once it's already there - improved treatments are great for those who are already diagnosed - we want to prevent breast cancer before it even starts!

The Love/Avon Army of Women is a wonderful group put together by Dr. Susan Love, a leader in the breast cancer arena. The "army" is aiming to recruit 1 million American women who are available to take part in numerous research studies, with the goal of preventing breast cancer. You can easily join the Army of Women by clicking here.

Another wonderful organization, if you are local to Massachusetts (or even if you are not) is the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC). I recently joined the board of this organization, which is dedicated to challenging all obstacles to the eradication of breast cancer... and believes that compelling research exists linking environmental toxins to the dramatic rise in breast cancer incidence over the past several decades. The MBCC started an amazing research organization called the Silent Spring Institute, which does research on the links between the environment and breast cancer. Currently, the MBCC does education and outreach to spread the word about breast cancer/environment links. You can read more about their work here.

There are a few other great organizations worth mentioning. These include Breast Cancer Action, an agency on the West Coast that challenges assumptions about breast cancer, and which created ThinkBeforeYouPink. There is also the National Breast Cancer Coalition that has just set a 10-year "deadline" to end breast cancer, and which has an interesting white paper laying out the reality of the situation: Despite years of campaigns to raise awareness, ever expanding screening programs, and increased fund raising and research, breast cancer incidence has increased and mortality has not changed dramatically. It is time for a radically new approach.

For breast cancer information, is a wonderful resource, and the discussion boards there are particularly amazing and supportive. For people under 40 with cancer, I2Y (the I'm Too Young for This Cancer Foundation) is fantastic, and they have a weekly radio show/podcast called The Stupid Cancer Show, which I love. I also love anyone who writes truthfully and irreverently about breast cancer. For example, author Barbara has a great post entitled Not So Pretty in Pink.

The bottom line is, women are still dying from breast cancer. It's not okay. I follow the blogs of women whose breast cancers are not going away, such as Coffee and Chemo, and Mothers With Cancer. These women are just trying to live their lives as mothers, wives, friends, workers, people, and they have to battle cancer as well. This is not okay.

We can do something. Click on the links. Learn more about the environmental causes of breast cancer. Join the Army of Women. Give to some of these fine organizations. Do something. Don't give up. And don't give in to the pink.