[Author's Note: This article is dedicated to my mother, whose birthday it is today - and to Beverly Jean Huck, a strong spirited survivor who overcame breast cancer three years ago]
Breast Cancer and the awareness of the importance of testing for it, finding a cure for it, and supporting those who are surviving it, have survived it, or have lost friends and family to it. I posit that this is not enough. The threat of breast cancer does not get put away in boxes along with Halloween decorations, and it is incumbent upon us to not let a day go by that we don’t do something about it.
Unfortunately we live in a sort of society that puts a much greater emphasis on the treatment of an ailment rather than its prevention. This is not universally the case, of course. Though there are unfortunately many people who get hit by a car when crossing the street it is almost universally taught by both parents and teachers of young children to always look both ways before crossing the street, and to (at least while young) only cross with an adult. Why is this not the case with illness that is not of the sexually acquired nature? It must be that it is lot easier to tell people to buy prophylactics to prevent getting chlamydia than it is to tell someone that they should try to avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates.
Is this really the case? A friend of mine in college who was diabetic told me that he was convinced that nobody really was putting that much effort to find a cure for diabetes. This was shortly after I saw an advertisement for a certain wristwatch which would give diabetics critical information about their blood sugar levels. My friend told me that if a cure for diabetes were to really be found, there would be no need for all the gagetry and the hundreds of different tools that make many millions of dollars for the companies that produce them. Perhaps I am being pessimistic but it seems that the doctor’s office gets considerably less money if you don’t get sleep apnea by keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly than if you eat poorly and exercise not at all and therefore need to come in for treatment.
It is not so uncommon for a person who has high blood pressure to have their doctor tell them to lower their intake of salt, yet it is the rare doctor that will tell a patient to consider a vegan diet as a way of possibly warding off breast cancer. How can this be when even the American Dietetic Association wrote in its 1997 position paper, “…breast cancer rates are lower in populations that consume plant-based diets. The lower estrogen levels in vegetarian women may be protective.” There are many other factors that can be considered such as the pesticides that are found as residues on food, pollution, and even some of the preservatives in our food.
Thankfully there is an increasing crowd of doctors who stand out and advocate new groundbreaking forms of prevention, the brightest one (or at least my favorite) being Doctor Andrew Weil, a board certified doctor who has written many books on the subject of a healthy lifestyle and has contributed to many health related magazines including my childhood favorite, Prevention. I am not advocating avoiding traditional doctors entirely (though some might think that’s a good idea) however it may be a good practice to consult with someone such as Doctor Weil as well. I think that an ounce of prevention is worth several hundred pounds of cure, personally.
The Commercialization of Breast Cancer Awareness
Every year company after company throws a splash of pink on one or many of their products and parades it around promising a certain amount of money to be donated to breast cancer research. While the intentions of the companies may seem to be quite sincere and generous it is important to be even just a little bit skeptical when deciding whether or not to make changes to your diet because one company has pink colored products. A certain soup company, for example, colored 7 million cans of a couple of styles of their own condensed soup and vowed 3.5 cents for every can sold, up to a maximum of $250,000.
There is a revolutionary web site called Think Before You Pink which holds these companies up to the harsh light of reality and features a list of six critical questions to ask before you buy something just because it is pink-oriented. I say instead of buying yogurt and sending in lids which yield a ten cent donation each, buy locally made organic yogurt and send a check to a reputable organization for $36 instead. That’s three hundred and sixty small containers of yogurt – or about one per day. I think that works out a lot better.
The Wonders of Visitation
There’s something you can do to help the cause, as it were, that doesn’t involve any money whatsoever. There are sadly many people who are fighting breast cancer who don’t have family or friends to support them. There are people who are being treated in hospitals right now who never receive visitors and never see anyone other than the doctors and nurses who are treating them. When I was a student at Rutgers University I was part of a small organization that arranged visits to patients every Friday afternoon. The amount of joy you can bring to a person who otherwise doesn’t have much human interaction is invaluable and it doesn’t cost you anything other than a little time. While you are there you can visit some elderly patients as well and bring some warmth into their lives. Whenever I visit my grandmother I make sure to have a few words with some of the other people at the nursing home and they are more than happy to talk.
Whether you are volunteering for an organization that is helping in the fight against breast cancer or spreading information on methods to prevent it, you can turn breast cancer awareness from a once a year event to a continual journey. This year, when you turn the page of your calendar to November and get ready to cut the Tofurky, remember to keep Breast Cancer awareness alive and well – all through the year.