Hello dearest students. Thank you for returning to Part II of the lesson I never dreamed I’d be teaching. I have entitled this portion of our learning:
“Having Environmental Breast Cancer at Age 36 is Absolute Poopidy-Poo-Poo-Garbage, and I Recommend You Avoid It At All Costs.”
Okay, maybe not my most cleverly titled lesson plan, but you get the gist.
If you missed my “Cancery-Booby-Doos” post in which I shared the story of how I discovered my cancer, PLEASE read it first. Or after. I don’t care. Just read em’ both. Read em’ and weep. Actually weeping is optional (I’ve been doing enough of that for all of us lately), but doing everything in your power to avoid ending up in a predicament similar to mine is not optional.
Early detection has most likely saved my life, and there’s a ton of misinformation floating around about when you should begin routine screenings.
Click here to check it out:
But let’s circle back to today’s lesson, shall we?
I’ve always taught my students that when writing, you want to begin with an attention grabber, and here it is:
From 1970 to 2014, there was a 242% increase in new cases of female breast cancer.
Please. Read. That. Again.
If that doesn’t shock your socks off, I’m not sure what will.
One in eight women will have breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s an average-sized bridal party, so which of your bridesmaids will it be? Or is it YOU?
Many will not get their mammogram or feel a lump until it has metastasized to other organs in their bodies. I am beyond lucky to have found my cancer when I did. If I had not asked for a baseline mammogram, I likely wouldn’t have made it to age 40 when most people think it’s recommended.
And here’s another startling statistic for ya:
It is estimated that out of all breast cancer cases, only 5-10% of those are genetic. That means the whopping remainder are caused by our environment.
So why has there been such a dramatic increase in breast cancer in women?
The answer to that question is precisely what I want to explore with you today.
There are the things we know are bad for us. The general public is very much aware of the widely publicized no-no’s when it comes to cancer. I want to focus on the lesser known risks.
But first… full disclosure.
Most of us, including myself, willingly engaged in things that were known to cause cancer in our younger, dumber days.
If you are currently living your younger, dumber (I mean “care-free”) days, I encourage you to listen the hardest. And if you’re not sure if I’m talking about you, then I absolutely am, you sweet, little baby-face.
You see, once upon a time, I had a real aversion to sunscreen and held a super-star-membership to the local tanning salon. I never sported the Playboy bunny sticker, but I was absolutely no stranger to his comrade, the tiny, blue dolphin whose pasty outline resided just above my left hipbone for quite a few years.
In lieu of SPF, I slathered on tanning oil, and I have all the sun spots to prove it.
And I did other cancery things, too.
Even as a grown woman who gloriously owns my past mistakes as they have undoubtedly contributed to my wisdom, it is still difficult for me to publicly admit I was a smoker in my late teens and early 20’s.
Now some of y’all are reading that and thinking, “Honey child, that’s no secret… we remember the chain-smoking from your Stateline Bar and Grille Days.”
::: insert embarrassed facial grimace:::
But if you’re one of my former students, or somebody’s grandma, or God forbid, my precious elementary school D.A.R.E. officer, just know I’m not a bit proud.
Circa 2001, avoiding carcinogens wasn’t really a priority of mine. I mean don’t all 16 year olds foolishly think they’ll live forever? I knew good and well smoking could cause lung cancer, but I didn’t realize then that it was also linked to breast cancer.
I obviously value my lungs more than my breasts, so I really don’t think that information would have deterred teenaged Summer, but it is one of many interesting facts I’ve learned since my boobs have recently tried to murder me.
Living dangerously can be fun, but that whole “something’s gotta kill you” bit is only cute until something is actually trying to kill you.
Let’s fast forward a bit. By the time I gave up all the tanning and smoking, I was sort of a grown up. After college, I became an elementary school teacher, married the hunkiest of the hunks, and started a family. Together, we had three mildly neurotic, wildly precious children of our own.
I had arrived at a place in life where I truly wanted to make healthier choices in all arenas, but the deep trenches of early parenthood are where good intentions go to die.
I needed some guidance on how to tiptoe my way into being more health conscious.
I am the oldest of three sisters, and I’m usually the one guiding the two of them, hand in hand, down the winding path of life (making sure they don’t fall face first into a briar bush or step on a copperhead). But when it comes to making more mindful choices about the food we eat and the products we use, they have been two of my greatest teachers.
You see, my sisters arrived in what I like to call Crunchy Town a very long time before I ever had any inclination to visit. They were both super interested in health and wellness, and I was super interested in Netflix and Milk Duds (still am, actually).
When they finally convinced me to visit Crunchy Town, I was hardly impressed.
I scoffed at the yogis in their frog poses. Your butt may look amazing in those yoga pants Heidi, but you wreak of patchouli, and I really couldn’t care less about what freakin’ moon phase we’re in right now.
I rolled my eyes at the mom who served sliced, organic carrots and hummus at our playdate. Oh your kids are sooooo superior. Too good for Goldfish crackers like the rest of us commoners, hmm?
I snickered at the ladies with their boxes of essential oils. Girlfriend, that might smell nice, but you’re straight up delusional if you think that’s killing ANY kind of germ. You need one of my Clorox wipes, honey?
I was so not sold on Crunchy Town, but there was a vibe there I found intriguing.
These crunchies, most of whom were badass boss women with multiple children, weren’t constantly exhausted like me. Sure, they were like the regular amount of tired. But after having three kids in five years, I looked and felt like the Night of the Living Dead. I was surviving on caffeine and prayer.
So a couple years ago, I stood below the welcome sign to Crunchy Town, still eyeing it suspiciously, and I decided to at least TRY. I started with some free beginner yoga on Youtube. I won’t say I enjoyed those early sun salutations by any means, but I did like the way it made me feel afterward.
Then, I began to occasionally buy foods that my sisters recommended in lieu of our usual brands. And the switches went over better than I’d expected with my family. I even started diffusing some essential oils, and much to my surprise and delight, most of them smell nothing like patchouli!
One simple change led to another. I began to switch out toxic products and educate myself. I was by no means going to start doing juice cleanses nor was I ready to make my own granola, but I was beginning to feel like maybe I could get down with these Earthy peeps (at least a little bit). I was slowly making small adjustments for my kids and myself that felt solid. I began to identify as what I liked to call low-key crunch.
I was actually really proud of myself.
But then, I found out I had cancer.
In fact I would later learn, I’d had cancer for quite a while.
So back when I was figuring out that first downward-facing-dog and beginning to brave the borders of Crunchy Town, my own booby-doos had already turned against me.
So now I’m a woman on a mission. A mission to get the word out to as many people as possible about what causes these environmental cancers.
I’m hoping, unlike me, you won’t show up a day late and a dollar short.
So let’s get down to business.
Most people who have zero family history of cancer aren’t that concerned about it. I sure wasn’t. But y’all, we need to be a little bit terrified and a whole lot informed; especially us parents, who are raising a generation of kiddos who are being doused in far, far more chemicals than we were as children.
Having said that, obsessing and stressing about all the toxins is far more poisonous and likely to kill you than the actual carcinogens. Therefore, I’m proposing we take teeny-tiny-itty-bitty steps that will make you and your family safer without all the overwhelm.
Don’t worry, I’m going to help.
So first we begin by seeking answers.
Why is breast cancer on the rise? Why at age 36 was my genetic testing normal, but I still have cancer? Why have I met MANY women in their early 20’s with normal genetics who have Stage 3 or 4 breast cancer? (That means their cancer developed in their late teens, y’all!) We HAVE to know better and do better for our babies and for ourselves.
There is no quick and concise answer to these questions, but we do know this:
The toxins in our environment are plentiful.
The majority of what is in your food today was never in your great-grandmother’s food.
It’s the plastic and the poison and the profit over people that’s the problem.
Billion dollar industries have tried to minimize public knowledge of the risks and manipulate women into continuing to poison themselves, and it’s working. For example, alcohol and birth control usage are two of the many risk factors I had never considered before my diagnosis.
Now listen girls, I’m not trying to take away Wednesday night margaritas or in ANY way insinuate women should not take oral contraceptives. I PROMISE, but I want you to have the information you deserve.
I believe you need to know what the data says (especially considering many of us are raising young women ourselves). I believe you deserve to hear what I’ve learned from being treated at the number one cancer hospital in this country. And if you hear what the research is screaming and you still want to ignore it, that is your God-given right, sister. But I really hope you’ll at least listen.
The world of genetics is complicated, and it is possible that 30 years from now, they will discover something in my DNA that explains why I got cancer, but my neighbor didn’t. But for now, I have been told by some of the greatest physicians in the world that not only is it probable my cancer developed as a result of the toxins I’ve been exposed to during my lifetime… at this time, it’s the only logical conclusion.
I don’t live next to a nuclear plant. I have never worked with radioactive materials. I may have been no stranger to Joe Camel for a short period of time, but I have also made a lot of what I thought were healthy choices during my lifetime, too. I have always been fairly fit and drank more water than a marathon runner. I thought I did a lot of things right.
So yeah, cancer before age 40 was a big surprise to me.
Because we are dealing with a complex issue, I want to introduce these problems and solutions gradually, so I’ve decided the simplest thing to do is to break it down into risk categories.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will empower you with not just the information but the tools to implement change.
GOAL #1: ELIMINATE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS
The skin is the largest organ of the body, and we have unknowingly been lathering and spraying poison on our bodies for decades. Our beauty, skincare, and other household products are riddled with chemicals known as endocrine disruptors.
Your endocrine system is a system of glands in your body that produces hormones, and these hormones regulate reproduction, sleep, mood, metabolism, and the list goes on and on and on.
But when our hormones get all funky-fied (that’s the technical term, obviously), it’s like playing Russian Roulette with our healthy cells. Pull that trigger wrong, and BAM, CANCER!
For many people with breast cancer, myself being one of them, estrogen and progesterone feed those cancer cells. You can see how this is a problem.
Years of exposure to products containing endocrine disruptors affects your health negatively in a myriad of ways. These disruptions are known to cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, reproductive issues, and other developmental disorders.
Now, I want to emphasize that not all chemicals are bad and not all things labeled natural are good (next time, I will explain which chemicals you need to look out for and which products you need to avoid).
A little green leaf and hipster branding does not indicate that a product is superior when it comes to your health. In fact, there is very little regulation as to what can be sold as “natural.”
That Mrs. Meyer’s soap that the Instagram Influencers are telling you smells so heavenly isn’t any safer than the old-school, gold Dial that makes your hands feel like sandpaper.
I was livid the day I discovered the Tide Free and Gentle I’d switched to when I became a mom (incorrectly assuming it was “better” than regular Tide) scores an F from the Environmental Working Group.
There’s a new company making waves most familiarly known as Shop Club (Melaleuca). Most of their products, too, contain endocrine disrupters and receive failing scores from the EWG (like their all purpose cleaner and scent-free laundry detergent).
So now that I have sufficiently frightened you, here’s what I want you to do. Gather all the products and food in your home, dump it in the middle of your yard, and burn baby burn.
There is absolutely no way to get your exposure to zero. It’s not feasible, and life is about balance. It’s being mindful that when you run out of a product you now know is harmful to you and your family, you replace it with something better. Baby steps.
I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m very much a novice, learning as a I go…but with the help of my Crunchy Town sisters, we’ve got you covered on safe alternatives.
I’m going to list and link up ALL the good stuff for you; starting with eliminating endocrine disrupters from skincare and other household products.
That post is coming at you soon.
I may not have convinced you to pack up and become a Crunchy Town resident just yet, but stick with me, friends.
It’s much safer for you and your family there, and keeping your family healthy is downright priceless.
And I promise, not everyone there smells like patchouli.
Until next time… Happy Learning, friends!
And for the love, check your booby-doos.