Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 2004
Strike cancer at its source
Obesity, smoking, environmental contaminants trigger this plague
By SUZANNE ELSTON
We are dying. The process is often slow and heartbreakingly painful. Moreover, the path toward that death is often so fearful that those who march along that road are so consumed with the process that they are unable or unwilling to figure out why they have been stricken.
Within one week recently, several more gentle souls in my personal universe were called to fight the battle of their lives.
The Grim ReaperIn one family I know, a brother and sister - one with a malignant brain tumour, the other with breast cancer - were both diagnosed on the same day. The week was punctuated by the funeral of a third who lost his battle with prostate cancer. A few days later, a beloved teacher found out that she too had breast cancer.
We all know the mantra, "Cancer can be beaten," and it can. My own mother beat cervical cancer more than 40 years ago. A dear friend is now cancer-free after surviving two separate bouts of melanoma.
But what about the rest? Of the nine children in my mother's family, only one has never been stricken with the disease. Two have recently finished radiation treatment. Five others are dead. And it doesn't stop there. My father lost both of his brothers, his father and his grandfather to the disease.
Cancer seems to gather strength daily, disfiguring, disabling and disheartening all those in its path, like some black army from the depths of Mordor. And like armies of Mordor, attacking it head on, as the armies in the Lord of the Rings discovered, cannot defeat it. Ultimately, the only way to defeat cancer is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To steal yet another lesson from Tolkien, cancer will be stopped when we strike at its source.
Despite the multi-billion dollar medical machine that promises that with just a little more money and a little more time we can beat this disease, cancer rates continue to rise. Health Canada reports that cancer is now the number two killer in this country. Only diseases of the circulatory system (that is, heart and stroke) claim more lives. I think maybe it's time we changed our battle tactics.
To borrow from Tolkien again, the first step is to know the enemy. Despite decades of research, Cancer Care Ontario estimates that only eight per cent of cancers are triggered by genetics and an additional five per cent are caused by infectious agents. The rest are either directly or indirectly linked to the pollution of our environment, whether that be personal (that is, smoking, obesity) or contaminants- both known and unknown - in the environment at large.
One in three"One in every three of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during our lives. It's one in two if you count non-melanoma skin cancers caused by too much exposure to the sun in our ozone-depleted world. One in four Canadians will die from cancer - you probably know several who have 'lost their courageous battles' with cancer far too young," wrote author and cancer activist Liz Armstrong. "If cancer were a contagious disease, we'd have no trouble calling it an epidemic."
Armstrong is a member of the Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition (BCPC), a group of cancer survivors, health and environmental activists working very hard to change our battle tactics in the war on cancer.
According to the group's website, www.stopcancer.org, BCPC believes that the continuing escalation in cancer incidence is due in no small part to our exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals and radioactive pollutants released continuously into our workplaces and the environment at large, as well as in the products we use on a day-to-day basis.
Given what's at stake, it's high time that we spent a lot more of our cancer dollars on prevention, a decision that would ultimately save billions of dollars in treatment and countless precious lives in the process.
Recommended websites:www.stopcancer.org is a great site, loaded with current information, resources and links to other websites dealing with cancer prevention and environmental protection.
Women's Healthy Environments Network sponsored the Run, Walk and Roll race. For details and photos, or to make a donation, visit whenvironments.ca
Those who enjoying reading obituaries might find Health Canada's death and hospitalization statistics of interest. Go to www.hc-sc.gc.ca/pphb-dgspsp/publicat/lcd-pcd97/mrt_mf_e.html#tab2.
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