In my experience, cancer stories, once few and far, are today commonplace.
In Nov 2017, I attended the funeral of an activist who had dedicated her life to the cause of saving rivers. She was a woman my age, sister-in-law of one of my closest friends, who passed away after battling breast cancer for three years.
11 years earlier, I lost another of my closest friends to breast cancer. I still remember the bleakness of that day, after hearing the news from her then-20-year-old daughter, who I knew since she was a child. Sitting, then, on our balcony in another part of the world, 1000s of miles away, I mourned her. I had spent a month with her during my vacation sometime before her final illness – a time of joy and sorrow. That was around the time I had also become an activist for safe food and farming.
My co-sister is currently undergoing chemotherapy for a rare condition which doctors don’t know how to treat.
All these women are between the ages of 40 to 55 years, in the prime of their lives.
This is the tale most women my age have to tell today – the loss of someone they know, the suffering of someone close, the prayers and pain, swinging from hope to despair – all stories of cancer.
Today, we have large support groups for the cancer-afflicted. We have started palliative care, pink ribbon campaigns, mammograms and marathons.
But what is missing in all these cancer stories is the all-out effort to eliminate the causes that we CAN eliminate. Why is it we refuse to address the causes? Be it our lifestyle (eating right, exercising, dealing with stress), be it the rampant use of chemicals in every aspect of life?
Why is there no public outcry on the contamination of our rivers, the pollution of our air and poisons in our food, the chemicals in our homes, yards and in cosmetics, body care and hair care products we use?
And what about the indiscriminate use of plastic and Teflon coated cookware? Are we saying that we will invite cancer for convenience?
Yes, we need to ask governments to ban chemicals which are not good for us. We need to become aware of the public policy, raise our voice. It is important that every one of us speak up to improve our environmental conditions and the safety of products we use.
In addition, we also need to take action in our personal lives. To this possibility, many say that it doesn’t guarantee that I will not get cancer.
A major counter to this perspective has come from a publicly funded government study from France, the report of which was published in Oct 1918. The study, that followed the dietary habits of 70,000 individual over a 5-year period, has found that people who eat organic food regularly may have 25% less cancer diagnosis; simply showing how to prevent cancer with food – or that there are some foods that prevent cancer. So, one of the simplest of steps we could take to reduce cancer risk is to switch to organic food.
So, yes, there may be no guarantees. However, none of us drives on the wrong side of the road because others drive rashly. We take care to avoid accidents, and still, sometimes some of us become victims of accidents.
Similarly, we have to do whatever it takes from our end to minimise our risk. To quote the motto of a breast cancer group in the US: Think Pink, Live Green!
I am hoping that, in the years to come, we will all wake up to the need for action… and may we succeed in saving precious lives – and hopefully the cancer stories now so common will be few and far.
Have a reflective week ahead!