Carrie Steele wonders why women are still subjecting themselves to invasive procedures that carry their own risks. Awareness is over-rated: prevention is the key.
ANYONE WHO HAS read even a couple of my blogs will realise that I believe that a whole foods plant based (vegan) diet is critical to health and wellbeing. I can’t mince my words: cutting out all animal products and if possible all refined/processed foods is in my mind the cure for all ills.
Just recently, I tuned into a series of talks as part of this year’s WISH summit (Women’s International Summit for Health). The topic: “Rethink Pink”. You’ve guessed right – the topic for this year’s summit was breast cancer. So I thought I would share some of the insights I gained from three of the speakers I listened to, including one of my health heroes, Dr Ruth Heidrich, who featured in the documentary movie Forks Over Knives a few years ago.
Why “Rethink Pink”, then? Simple answer – wearing pink ribbons, shaving for a cure, running to promote awareness, have any of these done anything to lower breast cancer statistics? The answer of course, is ‘no’.
We are all painfully aware that each year there are sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers and friends who die from breast cancer. Focusing on awareness, detecting cancer once it already exists and developing new drugs to treat this disease is like locking the gate after the horse has bolted.
There is a huge body of research that has already been done revealing ways that women can lower their risk of developing breast cancer, so why aren’t we focusing on that instead? Sadly, some women are now so aware and terrified of developing this type of cancer, that they are undergoing surgery to remove perfectly healthy breasts in what can only be described as a misguided attempt to avoid the disease. This barbaric and unnecessary procedure was recently glorified in the press with the release of the Anjolina Jolie story. How many body parts need to go before the fear is calmed? To be cruelly blunt, this is just going to be another avenue for business, as cancer is already big business, and now we can add preventive surgery to the list of money spinners.
Dr Ruth’s talk was my favourite. Her inspiring story told of her transformation from cancer sufferer to low-fat vegan and winner of six Iron Man triathlons and 67 marathons (including Boston and New York), not to mention all her other sporting accolades, which have won her more than 900 trophies.
At age 47, Dr Ruth had a golf ball-sized cancer removed from her breast. While recovering from surgery she happened to see an advertisement by Dr John McDougall who was looking for patients to participate in a breast cancer/diet related study. She saw him immediately, and left his office as a ‘low fat vegan’. Despite having been a runner for 14 years and having followed what she believed at the time to be a healthy diet – chicken, fish and low fat dairy – Dr Ruth was convinced that McDougall’s theory was correct, and so she decided to treat her cancer using the vegan diet alone. Reportedly, she felt so good at this time that she decided to enter her first triathlon – while she was a cancer patient. Dr Ruth has since changed her field of study, and completed her Ph.D in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She has also tracked her bone density from age 47 to 64 and it has increased significantly with each test, proving the point that dairy is not a pre-requisite to bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Interestingly, her arthritis also disappeared when she became a vegan. Dr Ruth is now 78 years old; she still competes in triathlons, runs marathons and is cancer free.
Dr Moira Dolan talked about the ‘mammogram scam’ and shared some statistics which the cancer care community would rather we didn’t know. Admittedly, this is a sensitive subject, as any negative talk about mammography is a bit like stomping on hallowed ground. However, Dr Dolan made no bones about the fact that mammography in itself exposes women to huge amounts of radiation over a lifetime, and in the US, where some women are being advised to have mammography annually, this is a real concern. It was also interesting to learn that some of the findings of mammography which are inconclusive at screening, lead to a significant number of women undergoing invasive procedures only to be told that they do not have cancer… and furthermore, many more women receiving treatment for cancer cells detected which are highly unlikely to ever eventuate into invasive cancer.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is a term that more and more women will become familiar with, as the focus of mammography turns increasingly towards detection of this, through investigation of microcalcifications. If I sound like I know a lot about this, suffice to say that I wish I had heard Dr Dolan’s talk a few months earlier, before I agreed to undergo what turned out to be quite an invasive stereotactic biopsy, to determine what I was already quite convinced of, which is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I can understand the philosophy that if one woman is ‘saved’ by mammography, then it is worthwhile. The question I have is does this procedure really ‘save’ any lives? Once again, it is a procedure focused totally on detecting cancer that already exists. I am more interested in looking at prevention. We all should be.
Medical researchers Syd and Soma Singer enlightened with some information about bra wearing – yes, that’s right, if you didn’t burn your bra in the ‘60s, it’s not too late to do so now. Soma, another breast cancer sufferer, credits her recovery (in short, the lump she discovered disappeared) with, along with diet and exercise, ditching her bra. Syd and Soma explained how the denseness of breast tissue acts like a sponge to soak up chemical toxins, and that the lymphatic system does an amazing job to flush these toxins away via the lymph glands. However, these are thin and delicate vessels, extremely sensitive to pressure and constriction – both of which can cause the vessels to close, rendering them useless to eliminate toxins. They theorise that less oxygen and fewer nutrients reach the cells when breasts are constricted. After 15-20 years of this, what do you think might happen? It makes a lot of sense to me – if we’re cooped up and unable to flush out those nasty toxins, and then we also eat a diet based around animal protein which we know promotes cancer growth, little wonder that breasts are a vulnerable area when it comes to cancer.
Needless to say, despite the Singers submitting their research findings, which are quite extensive and conducted over a number of years, and despite the World Health Organisation deeming that “chemical toxins are the primary cause of cancer”, the heads of America’s most prestigious cancer organisations and institutes failed to give any response to this line of research.
I haven’t quite burnt my bras, but I’m trying hard to follow Syd and Soma’s ‘bare minimum’ recommendation, which is to be bra-less for at least 12 hours a day. Because of my advancing age, I’m a little reluctant to ‘go commando’ all of the time – like many girls, I can do with a little help in the lift department. But I’m looking very critically at my ‘hitch-em-up-as-high-as-you-can’ bras, and starting to poke around lingerie departments looking for natural materials like good cotton, less wire, lower cut sides and no toxic-foam padding.
I have also changed my deodorant from the usual highly fragranced god-know-what’s-in-it aerosol to Thursday Plantation Tea-Tree oil roll on, which is amazing. Smells a bit like tea-tree oil when you first apply it, but after a while that fades and leaves a simply fresh smell. Actually, I’m looking very hard at all my beauty products, and may just blog in the future on some of the more ‘natural’ goodies I’m discovering, which just have to be better choices. Once again, plants are in, chemicals and fake concoctions are out. After all, the skin is the largest organ in the body, right? So what we plaster on it can matter just as much as what we swallow.
In summary, awareness of breast cancer (all cancer) is alive and kicking. What we need now is action in acknowledging what we already know are the preventive measures. CARRIE STEELE