Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't Blame the Victim

I've been thinking a lot about what it means that I had cancer, despite the fact that I ate a vegetarian-and-mostly-organic diet for the preceding 9 years, never smoked or drank alcohol or did drugs, exercised regularly, got plenty of sleep, had a healthy weight, used only natural bodycare products for years, had a high antioxidant level, was super healthy in general, had plenty of stress-relief methods and was living a conscious/aware life, etc., etc.

I'm tempted to think that if I had such a healthy diet and lifestyle and was still diagnosed with cancer, maybe I wasn't doing ENOUGH and need to do even more. e.g. NO sugar, double the vegetables, double the exercise, take a gazillion supplements, sleep more, meditate for hours, try harder and harder, etc. And I'd have a lot of support/company if this is the viewpoint I chose - the prevention literature, and breast cancer support groups, encourage women to improve their diets & lifestyles to try and prevent cancer. The spiritual/new age social circle I'm in is full of people who believe in responding to cancer with energy healing, inner child work, visualizations, etc.

Another part of me, a BIGGER part of me, thinks that if i had such a healthy diet and lifestyle and was still diagnosed with cancer, maybe the cancer had nothing to do with my diet or lifestyle and was almost entirely caused by environmental toxins I couldn't have done anything to avoid,
since I grew up in a town where the breast cancer rate is 20% higher than the rest of the state, and I can thus cut myself a break. Instead of working even harder to make my diet and lifestyle even more healthy, I could enjoy big ice cream sundaes and all the pleasures I've been denying myself.

I'm trying to find the balance. I'll never know what really caused my cancer and much of it is outside of my control, but I feel like it would be irresponsible of me not to at least TRY to do everything I possibly can to prevent a recurrence, and so, I take 11 daily supplements, obsess over/highly regulate the food I eat, etc.
At the same time, I want to enjoy my life. And I am already so saddened by/frustrated with how many people (both with and without cancer) believe that cancer is self-caused; I don't want to contribute to that. The more I read/research/learn, the more convinced I am that cancer is MOSTLY caused by environmental toxins. (Read Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber!) Thus, it doesn't make sense for me or any woman with breast cancer to beat myself/herself up over eating too many burgers or not exercising enough.
Dammit, I could do TEN PULL-UPS (yes, in a row, from a dead hang, forward-facing grip!) when I was diagnosed, and it's not like if I had only worked a little harder and been able to do 15, then I would have been safe from cancer.

The more energy I spend on trying to follow the health rules even more perfectly, the less energy I'm spending on activism... and I'm at the point where I feel like helping heal the planet is what would really help heal my body, and yours, and everyone's. Cancer's not just a personal problem - it's a societal one. Yes, I can try my best to avoid hormone-laden dairy products, but the hormones shouldn't be in my milk in the first place. Yes, I can buy local, organic apples, but if the receipt I receive at the cash register is printed on paper coated with BPA, it makes no difference that the apple I chose was pesticide-free because it's contaminated now anyway. Yes, I can choose to filter all the water I drink, but if I then shower in that contaminated water, it gets absorbed into my skin anyway. Preventing cancer isn't just a matter of each of us making better choices as individuals or changing our daily behavior. Nothing's really going to change until we lobby the government to study, regulate (better yet, ELIMINATE) carcinogenic chemicals, demand that corporations value people and the planet as much as/more than profit, etc. Yeah, that's a little pie-in-the-sky, I know, but for me personally, it's worth trying for. I have a long history of feeling irrational and extreme guilt and/or responsibility, often for things that aren't even my fault... and that stops NOW. It's not my fault cancer grew in me and I'm not taking responsibility for it. I did everything "right," dammit, and was still dx'd with cancer...because as Dr. David Servan-Schreiber says, "You can't be healthy on a sick planet."

I'm going to begin by doing some Internet research to find out which cash register receipt paper is the safe/non-BPA kind, and then go to every local store I shop at regularly to ask what kind of receipt paper they use. If they use the BPA kind, I will write a letter asking them to switch to the safe kind, and write something succinct about BPA's connections to breast cancer... and I'll try and get other local women with breast cancer to sign the letter.

And then I will reward myself with a big, delicious, ice cream sundae and not feel guilty for it!!!! That's my plan.


  1. yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. i love this post.

  2. This is wonderful, Britta - I'm so glad to read that you're trying to find a balance, and that ice cream sundaes are no longer off your radar. :) Sounds like a great and healthy approach to life, and I applaud your passion for change! If I can help out/participate, please let me know - I'd be more than happy to!

    -Shawna P.

  3. If you're living healthy and you still develop cancer, then it's not your diet. Many people are exposed to environmental poisons, man-made or otherwise and many others develop cancer because they're genetically predisposed to.

    Nature is cruel.

  4. Have some ice cream and throw something at a republican. You'll feel better for it.