Dear fellow breast cancer survivors who use alternative or complementary medicine,
We know that the traditional advice for reducing your risk of breast cancer – healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, avoiding alcohol and smoking – is good advice that everyone should follow for general health, but is not enough. Like many of you, I am always seeking further strategies for reducing my risk of recurrence – I eat broccoli and brussels sprouts, drink green tea, take turmeric capsules, and soak in detox baths. Our stories are all different, but what we have in common is a desire to remove all cancer from our bodies and prevent its return. There are many strategies to try, and many books, articles, and websites full of information on herbs and supplements, detoxing your body, anti-cancer recipes, and how to be a smarter shopper to avoid carcinogenic foods and products.
I’m writing to ask you to consider a different kind of cancer risk reduction strategy: environmental activism.
I am writing to you during a thunderstorm, toasty warm by the fireplace at the Newagen Inn in Southport, Maine. I am here on a pilgrimage – this is where Rachel Carson, world famous scientist and writer, whom many credit as the founder of the environmental movement and impetus for the creation of the EPA, spent her summers. This is where she studied, marveled at, and wrote about the natural world and humans’ relationship with it. Rachel’s most well-known book, Silent Spring, warned us all about the dangers of the indiscriminate use of carcinogenic chemicals, and the dangers of global warming due to humans’ overuse of fossil fuels. She had barely finished writing and publishing Silent Spring before she herself died of breast cancer, in 1964. I am a few hundred feet from where Rachel’s beloved, Dorothy, scattered her ashes into the sea.
Earlier today, I sat with my own beloved on the rocks, barely beyond the reach of the crashing waves, in front of the plaque with Rachel’s name on it. I thought about what Rachel might be thinking, writing, and doing if she were alive now in 2013. She would be appalled by GMOs, which are so likely to be carcinogenic and harmful to human health in a myriad of ways that many countries ban them, while the US government refuses to even label them. The realities of fracking – a process which destroys and poisons land and water with carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, to feed our fossil fuel addiction - would bring her to her knees. She would be angry to learn that this May, a few weeks before what would have been her 106th birthday, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years, due to humans’ overuse of fossil fuels.
What does this 400 ppm milestone mean, for the Earth and its inhabitants? It means temperatures rising faster than most of us expected, an inevitable loss of much human habitat as the sea level rises and swallows up land, an increasing loss of breathable air, and more super storms. It means that yesterday, last month, years ago, decades ago, we should have been reducing then eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels and switching entirely to renewable energy. It means that we should have all taken Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to heart and phased out carcinogenic chemicals while developing green chemistry programs and strong regulations for chemicals based on the precautionary principle.
But we didn’t, and here we are.
What I have come to understand through my studies of the environmental links to breast cancer is that it is not enough for me to focus solely on my own body. My health is bound up with the health of all women, and all of our health is bound up with the health of the Earth. No matter how many organic vegetables we eat, or how many mugs of Essaic tea we drink, we can never be fully healthy if the Earth is sick. Try as we might to maintain healthy diets and lifestyles and avoid carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals through consumer choices, industry – with its sociopathic, “Profits only, screw the people and the planet” mindset, has a multitude of ways of undermining our healthy choices. Try as we might to make green fortresses out of our homes, we are all exposed to numerous carcinogenic chemicals against our will and often without our knowledge.
Don’t despair! I know it can feel hopeless, and changing corporations and the government can feel so out of reach it’s not worth trying for. I know that anti-cancer gurus in the alternative health community, such as Kris Carr and Dr. David Servan-Schrieber, speak negatively of social change activism’s chance of success and preach personal empowerment through healthier diet and lifestyle choices. But I’m here to say that wide scale change IS possible if we all join together, and that we MUST do so to improve ALL of our health. We need each other. We have more strength together than we do alone.
|my beloved, holding a snail, from one of "Rachel's" tidepools|
The current atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have negative consequences for the health and well-being of all living beings, and unless we as a country decrease then end our reliance on fossil fuels, our health will continue to decline – regardless of what choices you and I are making at the grocery store. So if you find yourself considering purchasing something like a personal air purifier to wear around your neck to filter the air that’s heading toward your face, consider instead giving that money to an organization – such as Breast Cancer Action – that is working to pass legislation that would result in cleaner air EVERYWHERE, for ALL of us. I dream of a society in which a person's reaction to a cancer diagnosis is not to run out and buy a juicer, but to call up Congress and demand better environmental regulations!
Let’s join together, for the Earth, for Rachel, for you and me, and for the future of our children and generations not yet born. This summer, now, is the time to take action in any way that you can. Start where you are, and challenge yourself to do something, whether it’s as small as wearing a “Support GMO Labeling” button on your bag, or as bold as risking arrest in nonviolent civil disobedience. Whether you’re signing a petition or chaining yourself to a truck to prevent it from transporting fracking fluids, every action counts, and every action is needed.
- While you’re eating your cruciferous vegetables and drinking from your BPA-free cup, write to your senator to demand a ban on BPA and all endocrine-disrupting chemicals in all food packaging and dishes.
- Get your exercise by carrying a sign and marching at the NO to fracking/YES to renewable energy rally in Albany on June 17, or a rally local to you.
- When you have an extra 10 minutes, instead of Googling the ingredients in your toothpaste, scribble another postcard to Obama to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.
You and I need each other.
The Earth needs us.
We need the Earth.
LET’S DO THIS!