Cancer: It's the environment, stupid

October 21, 2007 by susan
Twin stacks, fuschia sky

Woke up this morning with cancer on my brain. Only figuratively, I hope. In the last week, three friends have had serious cancer diagnoses. One is Barbara's David, with esophageal cancer, another is a friend in LA with a very rare intestinal melanoma, and another is a local writer with ovarian cancer, detected too late.
What's going on? Does this just go with the territory of aging? Or something else? Like a plethora of carcinogenic chemicals in our lives? Or a combination of the two?
More, you betcha.

My maternal grandmother died very young, of breast cancer. She left behind 6 children, ages 2-12. She nursed them all, which, statistically speaking, lowers the odds of getting breast cancer, and this was in 1915 or so, before we had made a toxic stew of our environment. So cancer has been around for awhile and often defies reason. And to give modern medicine its due, had she been living today, she most likely would have survived that cancer.

That said, we have fouled our air, water and food with 60,000 new chemicals that were not in use in 1960. Medical researcher Michael Lerner, author of Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, and the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship (the well-known "genius grant"), writes, "We are pumping enormous amounts of 75,000 industrial chemicals into the environment, hundreds of which we carry trace levels of in our bodies, and for most of which we have no safety data on at all. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens and, even more troubling, some are endocrine disrupters, implicated in a wide range of diseases. We are engaged in a great uncontrolled toxicological experiment with our children and grandchildren as the subjects."

As we know, fetuses now float in amniotic fluid tainted with pesticides and chemical compounds with names like dichlorophenol and ortho-phenylphenol. Once born, they are nursed with their mother's similarly contaminated milk. Better living through chemistry, or at least – different, as we in the upper midwest are inclined to say.

We all tend to feel good about the Race for the Cure, and give our support to groups like the American Cancer Society. For many years I trotted around my neighborhood collecting checks for the ACS, and making my own small contribution. And no doubt, they’ve done much good, even though only about six cents on every dollar goes to research and other patient services, and the rest goes to overhead.

But now I give to environmental groups that Point to the Cause, something the ACS has traditionally been unwilling to do. Their mission includes preventing cancer, but that’s only with self-care tips, such as quitting smoking, using sunscreen, and getting regular exams. They have stayed away from any serious review of the part played by the careless spewing of contaminants and carcinogens into our environment by industry and agribusiness.

It’s been said that the reason for this is that corporate donors and the board of directors of the ACS include representatives of the very businesses doing the spewing, and by huge healthcare firms that make millions from cancer treatments. Without deeper research I can’t say for sure if that’s true, but a quick glance shows ACS does have board members like Briggs W. Andrews of Virginia-based Carilion Health Systems, and Anna Johnson-Winegar, the former Deputy Assistant to the US Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense, along with a slew of other health care execs, doctors and lawyers.

Corporate top donors include Progress Energy, “a Fortune 250 energy company with more than 21,000 megawatts of generation capacity and $10 billion in annual revenues,” and BAE,” a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defense and aerospace systems in the air, on land and at sea.” I’ll be taking a longer look at this in future writing.

I’m sure that most people who are involved with ACS aren’t there for cynical or cover-their-ass purposes, and as we know, their efforts are paying off. Survival rates for cancer patients have doubled in the last 30 years.

That’s great news for David and my other friends, but as long as we ignore the effects of fouling our air, water, and food, it’s a little like treating a burn patient while he’s still standing in the fire -- and telling him to quit smoking.

Posted in


B (not verified) | October 21, 2007 - 1:35pm

Ponder this:

"We are living in a world today
where lemonade is made from artificial flavors
and furniture polish is made from real lemons."

~Alfred E. Neuman (Mad Magazine)~


susan | October 21, 2007 - 2:17pm

A world where babies are conceived in sterile petri dishes, not bedrooms, and delivered in sterile hospitals, decorated to look like bedrooms.


barbara aka babs (not verified) | October 21, 2007 - 3:10pm

Have had Mayo Clinic on my mind. And in doing my due diligence around that august facility, was reminded that St. Mary's Hospital has patient suites. The kind where celebrities of one kind or another go to have their medical needs met. So yes, the gussied up hospital room in contrast to the test tube.

A friend who is professionally and personally tied to environmental issues raised this whole thing when she called earlier today to ask about David. And I've wondered about it, too. How much asbestos might he have encountered over time? Gardening chemicals? Abrasives and glues? My cooking. (Just testing to see if you're paying attention.)

I do believe we are all bobbing around in toxic stew of one kind or another. Very sobering. Very scary. And very detrimental to one's health.

Total aside. I'm a techno-dolt, remember? Is there such a thing as a very small, portable communications device (I know nothing about docking et al)? Definitely for emailing and in the best of all worlds, internet access via WiFi? I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about here. Do you, or am I just making up something that doesn't exist?

Would someone who knows about this give me a quick crash course to make me smart enough to know:

1) What am I looking for?
2) Where would I find it?
3) What's it going to cost?
4) How fast could I get it? Tomorrow??

I'm nursing a foot injury that I haven't had time to doctor for, and can't imagine lugging around a full-sized laptop (how our needs ramp up over the years, yes?) wherever David's medical journey takes us -- with any luck at all, Mayo.

Finally, please send hopeful vibes our way. And thanks.



B (not verified) | October 21, 2007 - 10:13pm

Not really sure what techno-tool you are looking for.
But from personal experience, most hospitals have computer access--both wire-less and computers for patient use.
Hope this helps--just remember:
Show up;
Stay awake, and
Maintain your sanity.
Or something like that--I keep forgetting!!


susan | October 22, 2007 - 1:02pm

I happen to know that you did not fall in love with your lap top the way you'd hoped, so I bet it's more than the bum foot that's keeping you from lugging that sucker along. But I'd vote for it over a Blackberry or any other small, slick device that you'll have to learn on the spot. (And pay for.)

I think many people find having a lap top at the bed side is not all bad. You have lots of time to learn things and sort old mail and photos and check in on news (if you dare) and send updates to your family and friends who want to be a cyber support net for you, and of course, look up the terms those doctors toss at you. But beware of too much googling. I've found one gets the most extreme versions of medical mishaps when reading too many personal stories. It's good to be informed and to be wary, but personal journals contain a lot of -- well, personal stuff. Or, you could just use the on-site computers.
On the other hand, you could read a book. When my friend was recovering from cancer, her husband read Wind in the Willows to her. I know other people who found great pleasure in classic old children's stories when they were sick. Not too heavy, just good tales.
Hang in, get well.


barbara aka babs (not verified) | October 22, 2007 - 2:36pm

She also serves who only sits and waits at her computer for the docs to call. (sigh) C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.

Re laptop-love? The damn thing weighs 12 pounds and is the size of Rhode Island. What was I thinking??

The reading thing. "Wind in the Willows." What a lovely idea. Thank you, thank you for that.

Time for today's breath.


B (not verified) | October 22, 2007 - 10:42pm

Whatever techno-tool you take with you, take time to fold your hands together and say a prayer.
God will listen, respond, and continue to bring miracles into our lives.
He brought you into my life!!

And a teacher taught me how to type "valid" at the end of each of these entries.!!


susan | October 22, 2007 - 10:56pm

What was that Yiddish quote a few posts back? "If prayer worked, people would pay for it"? Something like that. Sorry Barb. (not to be confused with Barbara aka Babs.) And I suppose they do pay for it in some churches -- didn't the Catholic Church used to sell indulgences or some thing like that? Any recovering -- or current -- Catholics out there want to set me straight?
As for typing "valid", that's better than it used to be when we had to decipher squiggly letters, or solve a 3+2 sort of math problem. The goal is to separate humans from machines in order to avoid massive spamming. Typing "valid" requires thinking. Okay, at least it requires reading and responding, which eliminates cyber robots promoting viagra. (Do robots need such things?)


barbara aka babs (not verified) | October 23, 2007 - 10:42am

Oh, honey, you don't want to know about the robot thing.

Yours in validation,


B (not verified) | October 23, 2007 - 8:38pm

This will be my final post on this message board and my final visit to the same.
I'll have to find out the status of my uncle's cancer in other forums.
The power of prayer have brought many of the miracles into my life. So, whilst others prefer to think technology is the makings of the world, I'll contime to fold my hands, pray for those who are deserving and those who are not.
Without miracles, I know my family would not be where we are now.

As far as typing valid--we now have computers that have voice recognition, signal recognition, and love the capacity to copy and paste. Not to be concerned, my copy and paste method won't be found on this page again.
Happy days.

May Barbara and my uncle find peace as they pursue the man-made chemical madness of pharmaceuticals and as they muddle through the health insurance that tangles us as United States citizens.

Barbara knows that she can always call or email me. She's family and always will be. Blogs are just mediums to voice opinions--whether one agrees or disagrees.

It takes greater minds to realize that there are others out there that have contributing ideas with great results.

So long and fare the well.


susan | October 24, 2007 - 4:39pm

Oh gosh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to offend. I'm feeling a bit snarky about God and prayer of late. I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I know that many wonders happen that we can't explain and if that's the presence of God, who am I to quibble?
As for the comments about typing Valid, I meant that to be in agreement. It's been a nutty system on this site for a long time, with simple math problems as the first attempt to block spam (mind you, we have no hand in this. Some smart techies take care of this for us.) and then the doubly offensive glitch that often told you your answer, 2+3=5, was wrong.
Then we went to the "captcha" system, where you decode some letters, but that was also full of glitches, rejecting correct answers and so on.
So, they came up with this "valid" system.
Barbara aka Babs and I are so maladroit at this sort of thing that we're embarassed by how much we don't know. We can barely explain to the tech kids what it is we want to change when we want to change it.
As for checking up on your uncle's health through this site, yeah, that's probably not the way to go. We love Barb and though we don't know your uncle first hand, we're rooting for them both. But we're more of a political commentary site than a health update blog, and I can gather from your comment above that our take on things probably isn't going to be your cup o' tea.
Even so, your message was heartfelt and I didn't mean to offend. I'm sorry.