By Carin G. Hansen
As we enter the month of October – Breast cancer awareness month, I want to bring home the stark reality of this sobering statistic. As a breast cancer survivor of twenty years, it is quite amazing to me that the ratio of those who get breast cancer is still one-in-eight! This is exactly where it was when I was diagnosed in August of 1994. I find it amazing from two different aspects. They are simply: “why isn’t the ratio higher?” and “why is it still that high?” Not a profound premise for writing… but I think you will understand and appreciate the premise as you read on.
First, let’s address my question of “why isn’t the ratio higher?” For many years, the ratio of women who got breast cancer compared to the women who didn’t, got higher and higher. The occurrences skyrocketed from the time I was born to the time I was diagnosed in 1994. There are many substantiated reasons for that being the case. Some of these reasons are:
- World-wide we began eating more hormone-laden and/or processed foods in the middle of the 20th century.
- During that same period, more women were being put on hormone-replacement therapy then ever before.
- We were exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before during the first 40 years of my lifetime.
- The population, as a whole, was being subjected to more cosmetics and/or personal care products that contained ingredients with an estrogenic-effect.
Each of these reasons meant that people in industrialized nations were increasing their levels of “bad” estrogen making them more likely to get a breast cancer diagnosis. It is easy to understand why we saw the occurrence of breast cancer continue to affect more and more women, and men, during that time.
It would seem that since none of the reasons given above have gone away, that the ratio would be much higher than it was twenty years ago. (Please, do not think for a moment I would want that to be the case. I am extremely thankful it is not now one-in-seven or one-in-six.) Yes, there has been a good amount of natural/organic food show up on grocery shelves. There have also been changes within the medical community regarding whether certain women should be put on hormone-replacement therapy – but, most women are still choosing to follow that path if their doctor suggests it. You can purchase cleaning products now that are not toxic or make your own from things like vinegar and baking soda. And, there are more cosmetic, skin care products companies who are developing and manufacturing organic and/or “chemically safe” products.. But, the majority of the population is still quite oblivious to the existence and/or the purpose of such products and see no reason to make better choices.
Then, why hasn’t the ratio gotten higher? From my perspective it is the opposite of my last comment. Many HAVE become informed and educated AND have chosen to change their lifestyles in ways that they feel are more healthy and wholesome.
“Why is the ratio still that high?” is the flip-side of the same coin. At the risk of sounding redundant, lack of information and education is one reason… but, it can’t be the only reason. AND, have you noticed that a once “older woman” disease is now affecting more, and more, younger women? When I was diagnosed 20 years ago at 40 (having discovered my first lump at age 38) I was considered “young” for contracting this disease. That is unfortunately no longer the case. Many more women are getting diagnosed with this disease in their thirties now. It is these kinds of statistics that make me go searching for reasons and answers.
We, as western women, are exposed to a horde of hormones from an early age. It is nearly impossible to find a pre-menopausal woman living in the western hemisphere who is not estrogen-saturated, unless she has taken very specific steps to lower her exposure to estrogen-laden foods and products.
I mentioned personal-care products and cosmetics earlier. I consider these the most heinous of exposures because multiples of billions of dollars are spent each year advertising these products. Their main thrust is to convince every woman that they need yet another beauty product to whisk that latest wrinkle away. Many, if not most, of these products contain ingredients that are potential hormone disruptors.
Thankfully, as I said before, many of us have chosen to turn to safer personal-care products, cosmetics, foods, cleaning products and so on. But, if you have ever watched Shark Tank (one of my favorite shows) you know that one of the sharks ongoing reasons to not invest in products – even if they are GREAT products, is the cost and effort involved to re-educate people.
We have grown accustomed to “the norm”. Unfortunately that norm may be the very thing keeping the breast cancer ratio from coming down.
Do your homework and educate yourself regarding EVERYTHING you put on you, in you and around you. You don’t need to get paranoid about what you don’t have control over changing – like your work environment – but, by making many simple, small changes in your own lifestyle we can begin to see the ratio change… and change in the right direction.
Wouldn’t it be a blessing to be able to say only one out of every twenty woman gets breast cancer within the next decade?! It will take a lot of determination on the part of those of us who are informed and educated to get the word out. Beyond that, we must all make a decision to simply change how we live. It isn’t good enough to know we should change – it requires that we follow through and DO IT! It won’t be easy, but I believe we can see a great reduction in the occurrence of breast cancer.
Please note that I said “I believe we can see a great reduction in the occurrence of breast cancer”. This disease, as with most others, is not one that will ever be completely eradicated. I once had the privilege of sitting in on a forum with a very well know cancer expert (I am sad to say, I have forgotten his name). He explained that a person’s constitution alone will see to it that diseases of all kinds are always present. He used the example of George Burns who did most everything wrong health-wise and lived to 100 and then there are those who do most everything right and only live a little past the half-century mark. He went on to say that if George Burns had “done it all right” he might have lived to 120. Conversely, those who “did it all right” and died at a relatively young age might have only lived to their forties had they live like George Burns.
There is no reason to ever feel guilty about being diagnosed with, and fighting, breast cancer… not succumbing to it, in spite of a valiant battle. I cannot say that strong enough… However, I also need to say that I feel it is my responsibility to share what I have learned that could help decrease your – or a family member’s chances of getting a breast cancer diagnosis.
My heart’s desire is to bring this statistic down as low as possible – so… let’s do it!