This is the 6th anniversary of my own diagnosis of pre-menopausal breast cancer and, you betcha, I am grateful. When the breast cancer awareness movement began 25 years ago, their mission was to change the course of this disease from fatal to survivable, to help women like me. Komen and other organizations like them, have helped to raise awareness, pay for detection and research, and bring the breast cancer death rate down. Their efforts have given millions of women treatment options and hope.
And so it is that in October America gets swaddled like a newborn baby in a silky pink ribbon – -reminding us at every potential point-of-sale and commercial juncture that awareness and detection (sometimes called prevention though it’s decidedly not the same) is the best way out of the cancer crisis and, therefore, the best use of our charitable dimes this month.
Or is it?
Despite the billions of dollars funneled into research, detection and treatment, the cancer rates in this country (and other epidemic illnesses) are staggering and continue to rise– especially among our youth. Breast cancer incidence rates have actually increased (especially among younger women), the death rate from cancer overall is almost the same as it was in 1971, cancer is the leading cause of death in younger people (35-64), and pediatric cancer is now the leading cause of death among children.
What we need is to take this fight to the next level: from beyond survival to thriving, from beyond cure to PREVENTION. The statistics make this painfully clear. We need to have the collective courage to stand up not just AGAINST cancer but for the pre-emptive strike. Which means things like prioritizing and supporting healthy eating and living — starting with breastfeeding and human milk, and including reducing the toxic-load on our bodies with better food and a cleaner environment.
It also includes asking disease foundations to participate in raising awareness about prevention – to at least provide information in their materials, e.g., about the 59% breast cancer risk reduction associated with breastfeeding in a woman with a family history, and the 25% lifetime risk reduction enjoyed by girl babies who are breastfed. Thank goodness there are some amazing people and organizations out there today focused on preventing illness before it starts –like the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group and Healthy Child Healthy World.
I didn’t need any more inspiration to fuel me this October. But, I got it anyway. In spades. My friend’s 9 year old son died last week after a four year battle with brain cancer. To be more precise, he had developed leukemia after two separate rounds of chemotherapy had decimated his immune-system and a bone-marrow transplant failed. This mom and I hadn’t socialized more than a handful of times, but we were bonded over our shared history of breast cancer (both of us in our 30s). She and her son had undergone side-by-side chemotherapy sessions when his neuroblastoma was first discovered. There was a significant history of cancer in their family in general.
Words often hold very little value at a time like this. Losing a child to cancer is something I cannot get inside of no matter how much even as a survivor I want to and try. So when I hugged her frail frame at the funeral, from my deep within, I managed to say this: “my fight for PREVENTION and THRIVING is now in the name of your son as well.” Under my breath, I muttered, “This has to stop.” She called me the next day to say how much my words, my promise to her, my mission through Best for Babes, gave her solace and strength and could she “just lean on me” for a time? You lean on me, Babe. And on Best for Babes’ pledge to do whatever we can to see that we all have the chance to THRIVE.
Now, I am not saying that cancer and all manner of disease isn’t a normal part of the human experience. It surely is. Just not in epidemic proportions. Nor am I saying that this child would have been spared or saved his illness. Just that all of us deserve to reach our true genetic potential — each of us has an intrinsic potential for health. Science is confirming that by deleting the healthy foundation that breastfeeding and human milk provide, and adding in scores of toxins from our environment, we are compromising that potential. The newer science of epigenetics is revealing that our choices can even influence the genetic code and potential of our offspring — turning good genes off and bad ones on. No more relying on your 90 year old grandpa’s longevity as your insurance policy.
Looked at another way, imagine how healthy we humans in the 21st century might be if we put the front and the back piece together –giving ourselves the benefit of a strong foundation, plus modern medicine! WOW! We’d practically be superhuman! It’s possible. Check out Blue Zones– Lessons About Living Longer From People Who Have Lived the Longest, by Dan Buettner. Amazing what clean air, clean water, pesticide- and chemical-free food, daily integrated exercise, and mother’s milk can do for the human condition. I am not advocating a return to pre-colonial times. This is about taking the best from both worlds by doing what we can to reduce our toxic loads within a modern life of busy-ness, bounty and technology. Not coincidentally, his other book is entitled, Thrive, my favorite mantra and mission.
For many of us, it takes a crisis or a serious threat to our wellness for us to pay closer attention – to question, to check our gut instincts against what the advertisements, labels, and check-out counters say, and to be inspired to change habits. My friend, of course, like every mom, wanted to give her boy the best life ever – in every way. But our decisions and the capacity to carry them out are too often upended or hampered by the information and influences upon us at any given time. She was Booby Trapped but didn’t know it — she wasn’t told that particularly with their family history that breastfeeding should be a priority; she wasn’t encouraged or given the support to succeed. She desired to learn a lot more about nutrition generally from me– the gluten- sugar- yeast- dairy-free queen. She soaked up like a sponge all I had to say on the subject. She laughed out loud the first time we met, ironically at a cancer awareness event, when I explained to her that I couldn’t support a colon cancer organization that served fried donuts at it’s “race for life”! She said, “I never thought of that but you are so right. You need to tell more people this stuff!”
And so we are: if you are going to stake wellness this Pinktober – put your money on PREVENTION. Prevention is the New Pink! Here’s how:
Make a donation to support the Mother of All Causes – $5, $10, $20 any amount helps our tiny nonprofit to take this cause to the next level;
Join or Support Team Best for Babes this month: donate to Team BFB at the Marine Corps Marathon — we are the first breastfeeding charity team to officially partner with a major marathon!, to Team Operation Lactation Freedom and their Special Dad Forces –a military team on a mission to let freedom ring at a race in Georgia, or to Team Divas Run for Breastfeeding — led by a pediatrician! Or start your own Team!
Ask disease foundations to participate in raising awareness about prevention and the protective benefits of breastfeeding
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