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.