This is a follow-up to my earlier post My Breast Cancer: Why I Won’t Race for the Cure, and one of several this month in honor of all the women who bear the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer — myself included. I hope that it further galvanizes people around the fight for PREVENTION, and inspires them to rethink the goal as THRIVING not just SURVIVING. Special thanks to Karin Cadwell, PhD, FAAN, RN, IBCLC and Executive Director of the Healthy Children Project/Center for Breastfeeding, and Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC and La Leche League Leader, for providing the facts about breastfeeding’s amazing risk lowering effect on breast cancer.
Last week, a colleague pointed me to a powerful art show entitled SCAR Project - a series of nude, breathtaking, black-and-whites of women who, like me, have had bilateral mastectomies, but unlike me, have not been reconstructed. In other words, these portraits are a ‘no holds barred’ photo essay on the scars. These women, even without the usual appendages, were outrageously gorgeous. They have, like me, endured an unbelievable ordeal and deserve all the love, praise and celebration in the world. Those scars are their badges of honor, and proof that beauty and wellness can still exist where breasts once lived. They are your and my heroes for courageously baring it all for the intended good of their sisters and humankind.
No doubt, my colleague, as well as the show’s creator and participants, meant for this glamorous expose of the “boob- free” feminine form to be empowering, liberating and normalizing—a kind of “breasts or breast-less . . . I am still woman, hear me roar!” —and to create kinship among strangers who unintentionally belong now to this Amazon-like tribe. I love that the fashion photographer David Jay’s tagline for the show is “breast cancer is not a pink ribbon” and that he feels that putting a pretty pink ribbon on something so horrific is “absurd and dishonest.” So, you would have thought that I would have “fanned” the SCAR Project Facebook page in a nanosecond. I didn’t. In fact, I recoiled in horror and tasted the tears I shed 5 years ago when I shed my own breasts at age 37. Only this time, I was not only crying for the loss of breasts (theirs or mine), a normal physique, or for the shattered illusion of health and longevity most pre-menopausal women still have. I was shaken to my core because of the realization I had that was coming through that gloss: How much longer do we have to tear the breasts off our bodies because we can’t control the epidemic levels of preventable disease in this country? Has breast cancer become so commonplace that the disease itself and it’s consequences are not only tolerated and accepted, but, dare I say it, glamorized? And by glamorizing it, are we normalizing this beast of a disease and losing sight of the fact that sporting a breast-free torso is anything BUT normal for a woman? Is this an acceptable fate for too many of our daughters?
Mammalian breasts evolved to uniquely nurture and nourish offspring and to ensure the survival of the species. In humans they are considered sexually attractive in some cultures—and breast cancer organizations have cleverly tapped into that with the “Save the Ta-Tas” and “I Love Boobies” slogans on t-shirts and gear. But has the subtext of that message been to save breasts only because they are body parts, part of women’s identity, or part of her attractiveness to a mate? What about “saving the ta-tas” for their most profound purpose, that of providing the building blocks of emotional and immunological health for our children, and helping a tiny, dependent human being to mature and fulfill its genetic potential? Is this message being lost or neglected? If so, then no wonder we are losing our breasts by the millions; it is symbolic of the lack of value we place in using and appreciating breasts for their primary function, a function that is the evolutionary REASON for their attractiveness. As generations of women are falsely led to believe that formula is “closer than ever to breast milk” by a culture that predominantly thinks the act of nursing is gross and should be hidden, and refuses to protect expecting and new moms from the booby traps™ that undermine them, are breasts becoming vestigial organs, and becoming diseased because our subconscious cultural attitude is that we don’t need them? Are our breasts are being cut off because we are cut off from them?
With this in mind, I believe we need to rethink our approach and put the glam, the funding and the focus, into PREVENTION, PROTECTION and THRIVING –with human milk and breastfeeding at the forefront. With human milk as a powerful starter, a toxin-free diet and environment, and a healthy dose of exercise, we might actually be able to send this breast-snatching epidemic packing! We, you, can’t afford not to. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women ages 30-50 and the second leading cause for women of all ages. It is also somewhat preventable through lifestyle changes, especially across generations as our DNA coding becomes more robust through the healthy choices of our ancestors. How can it be that more people –more parents –are not aware that they can significantly lower both a mother (59% with a family history, 28% without) and her daughter’s (26-31% lower) breast cancer risk by breastfeeding! What friends, families, dads, partners — even the most “ta-ta” obsessed yet breastfeeding-squeamish — wouldn’t WANT THAT AND FIGHT FOR IT for both mother and baby girl, if they knew about it?
But don’t take our word for it. Here is the best evidence showing the association between breastfeeding and lowering your and your daughter’s breast cancer risk:
- Breastfeeding is one of two “lifestyle factors” that is associated with “convincing decreased risk” of breast cancer for all women (family history or not) — exercise is the other.(1)
- Breastfeeding is associated with up to a 28% decrease in risk of developing breast cancer at any age (pre- or post-menopausal) for women without a family history of the disease, who breastfed for 12 months or longer. (2)
- For women with a family history of breast cancer, breastfeeding is associated with 59% reduced risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer –that’s more than half! (3)
- For every 12 months of breastfeeding, a woman can lower her breast cancer risk by 4.3% This is cumulative, so that a mother who has two children and breastfeeds each for 2 years can realize a 17.2% reduction! (4) Some scientists speculate that this is one reason why, in developed countries with lower rates and duration of breastfeeding (like the U.S.), we also see higher rates of breast cancer.
- Four Breasts for the Price of Two: Your baby girl’s risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime is lowered by 26%-31% if she is breastfed! (5)
- Babies are born “hot” with estrogen from their mother (i.e, enlarged genitals) and breastfeeding may have a “cooling” effect that facilitates normal breast-bud development in infancy, reduces the exposure to excessive hormones early in life, and “may have long-term health benefits for hormone-dependent diseases.” Growing evidence suggests that not breastfeeding or using soy-based formulas explains why baby girls have an increased risk of hormone-fueled (hormone-positive) breast cancer later in life. (6)
- Breastfeeding’s associated protection against being obese and overweight — major risk factors in adult diseases — buys your baby girl or boy extra protection against developing certain cancers as an adult. (7)
With favorable statistics like those, it would be wonderful if breastfeeding’s risk-reducing ability would be touted everywhere and breaking down the barriers to breastfeeding would be a major funding priority. To be sure, breast cancer research and support organizations’ tremendous focus on early detection, state-of-the-art treatment and care have given life and hope where before there were none. But there is much more work to be done to get funding and focus on the kind of PREVENTION that is concerned with reducing the toxic load on all of us, and publicizing breastfeeding as the first ingredient in maximizing our chances of how to build a healthy human being. Best for Babes is dedicated to putting the Protection Under Our Noses front-and-center in our fight for wellness and health. We are using donation dollars to Beat the Booby Traps™ that make it nearly impossible for parents to make informed feeding decisions and achieve their personal breastfeeding goals (whatever they may be!) or be provided with donated human milk so that they can give themselves and their children all the bennies that go with it!
So this month, when we are painfully aware of the suffering caused by breast cancer and want to do something about it, let’s give the visibility and dollars to PREVENTION and THRIVING. Let’s create a space and a place for breastfeeding in the public’s awareness of breast cancer using our non-judgmental, positive, evidence-based approach, and our mission to turn up the heat and Beat the Booby Traps™, not women! Let’s provide breast cancer organizations with encouraging language that empowers and gently educates their members and followers: a simple message such as:
“Along with a healthy diet, a toxin-free environment and regular exercise, breastfeeding is a lifestyle decision that can reduce your and your baby daughter’s risk of breast cancer. If you are planning on starting a family or currently expecting, the (name of breast cancer) organization strongly recommends that you get the facts about how to get off to a good start with breastfeeding, and arm yourself with the resources to overcome any challenges and beat any booby traps™. The longer you breastfeed, the better for you and your baby, but any breastfeeding is better than none! In the abscence of breastfeeding, pumped or donated human milk is the next best substitute. “
Let’s make sure that breast cancer organizations have resources for breastfeeding beyond breast cancer – a significant study was just released giving the OK on this one. Let’s make sure they have information on donor milk banks and are joining us in demanding that breast cancer survivors should not have to pay for it. (If I had gone on to have a third baby, I would have used donor milk gladly.) Let’s help them provide more inspiration and information for younger victims and new mothers who have lost some or all of their breasts, including directing them to resources on how to nurture skin-to-skin and supplement (preferably with donated milk) at the breast. Very importantly, let’s recognize and reward those organizations that share our vision and are truly investing in PREVENTION, groups like the Breast Cancer Fund , whose mission is to eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer– YEAH! We are excited about creating an alliance of breast cancer organizations and working with them to cross-promote and fundraise for our common ground.
It’s time we dealt with and healed the divide so that we don’t take one more step closer toward normalizing the “Protection That Used to Be Under Our Noses.” And when you see our rhubarb pink logo, smile and know what it, what we, the Mother of All Causes, authentically stands for: Prevention.
Here’s what you can do right now to help this month, in the coming months and as we gear up for NEXT October:
1. Donate to Best for Babes and continue the fight against the Booby Traps that prevent breastfeeding and human milk’s protection from being attainable for too many moms and babies. Until October 31, 2010 , Earth Mama Angel Baby, themselves a pioneer in keeping toxins out of the mouths of babes big and small, has pledged to match every one of your dollars up to a maximum of $1000! Click here to donate.
2. Help us to make breastfeeding, the Foundation of Human Health, a part of the mainstream breast cancer conversation. Send a link to this post to your local or national breast cancer organization(s) and ask that they include a simple message, like the one above, in their printed and online materials on “How to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk”. In exchange, Best for Babes will recognize and list them on our Breast Cancer Alliance & Resources page as being a trusted resource for breast cancer prevention. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the contact info of any organization with whom you share this link. We’d love to hear from you!
3. Share this information with your friends and family by posting it to your Facebook page or sending an email. Enroll the media, and be a voice for change!
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you!
1. World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective Washington DC: AICR 2007 http://www.dietandcancerreport.com
3. Stuebe, Alison M., Willet, Walter C., et. al. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009; 169(15):1364-1371. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/169/15/1364
4. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Lancet. 2002 Jul 20; 360: 187-95 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12133652
5. Freudenheim J.L., et al. Exposure to breastmilk in infancy and the risk of breast cancer. Epidemiology. 1994 May; 5(3): 324-31.
6. Zung A, et al. Breast development in the first 2 years of life: an association with soy-based infant formulas. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008 Feb;46(2):191-5; Setchell KD, et al. Isoflavone content of infant formulas and the metabolic fate of these phytoestrogens in early life. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Dec;68(6 Suppl):1453S-1461S.
7. World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective Washington DC: AICR 2007 http://www.dietandcancerreport.com